Sunday, July 09, 2006

San Gabriel Valley Tribune - June 21, 2006

In grave danger
Financially-strapped Rosemead cemetery may close
By Christina L. Esparza Staff Writer

ROSEMEAD - Edwin Wiggins' family plot at the Savannah Memorial Park cemetery has been there since 1851, he said.

But Wiggins doesn't know if he'll be able to be buried along with family members at the Rosemead-based pioneer cemetery, since costs of upkeep have quickly outpaced revenue.

Emotions ran high Tuesday at the meeting of the cemetery's directors as the board and family members of the pioneers buried there faced an uncertain future.

A plot hasn't been bought at the Valley Boulevard cemetery in about four years, officials said, making it difficult for the cemetery to survive financially.

"This is the oldest continually used cemetery in Southern California," said Bob Bruesch, the vice president of the board. "This is the crucible of the entire San Gabriel Valley. To let this site go to seed will destroy out connection to our history."

More than 3,000 graves make up the cemetery at 9263Valley Blvd., Rosemead, officials said, some of which date back to 1847. In 2004, officials said there were 200 more plots they could sell for $1,000e ach, but it would not bring in enough money to keep Savannah running.

It costs about $35,000 to keep up the grounds, and in 2005, revenues were about $9,000, officials said.

One option is to turn the cemetery into a park and erect a monument with the names of those buried there engraved on it.

However, that didn't sit well with Wiggins.

"After coming here with oxen and wagons, they'll dig up my headstones of my forefathers?" he said.

Los Angeles resident James R. Bias has 14 family members buried at the cemetery. He doesn't want to see it closed since three plots are left.

"I'd like for them to keep it up," he said.

Fiscally, though, that is impossible. One solution, Bruesch said, is to get the cemetery declared a historical landmark.

However, that can't happen unless the cemetery officially goes out of business, Bruesch said.

"As long as this is a business, nobody's going to help," he said.

Rosemead Councilman John Tran, who attended the meeting, said he does not want to see something so historic disappear.

"It's refreshing to see concerned descendents who want to preserve the cemetery," Tran said. "There is a rich history beneath these grounds and they have the makings of becoming a historical landmark. It will be a shame to see all the preservation efforts thrown out the window."

Sue Silver of California Saving Graves, an Internet group that offers advice to people having problems with historic cemeteries, said saving the cemetery is important. She has been monitoring the problems at Savannah.

"I think it's an absolute must for the history of the area," she said. "Either the city or county need to step up to the plate to provide a mechanism for funding."

They could create a public cemetery district, which would receive appropriations from the city or county, or they could turn it into a pioneer memorial park, which would no longer be available for burials, but be maintained by a park and recreation department.

Also on Tuesday, Ken Pike, the 88-year-old chairman of the cemetery board, resigned, citing health reasons.

The board will meet again 9a.m. July 15 at the El Monte Historical Museum, 3150 Tyler Ave.

Staff Writer Phil Drake contributed to this story.

christina.esparza@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2472

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