Andrew C. Lazzaretto, City Manager
City of Rosemead
Dear Mr. Lazzaretto:
I received the below email from a friend who has family buried at the Savannah Cemetery, formerly known as the El Monte Cemetery. It would appear that the board of trustees of the cemetery's association intend on resigning which will, in essence, leave this cemetery abandoned of any legal authority or supervision.
In 2003 I spoke with a prior Rosemead city manager (forgive me but my research files are in storage due to an impending move) and informed him that California law enacted in 1872 provided that the title to the cemetery had vested in the public long before 1900. The city manager assured me at that time that the City of Rosemead would not allow anything untoward happen to the cemetery.
From a review of interment records and published histories of the cemetery's use, I would conclude that the public acquired this legal title around 1880, if not before. The 1872 law was self operating so that as soon as the public's use met the prescriptive use requirement, the title DID vest in the people.
The 1872 statute is covered on the following website page and there is also an Attorney General Opinion regarding the effect of this and other historic laws regarding cemeteries and publicly owned lands.
AG Opinion: http://www.caag.state.ca.us/opinions/published/98-503.htm
In 1859, the state enacted a statute authorizing the incorporation of Rural Cemetery Associations. More about this statute may be found at:
My review in 2003 of the history of this cemetery did not reveal any published account of the incorporation of a rural cemetery association prior to 1900. I did locate a number of items in the LA Times that notified the public about clean ups, etc. of the cemetery, but nothing about the incorporation of the cemetery association.
I also located a 1964 LA Times article in which it stated that the City of Rosemead had sought a court ruling on whether it could appoint a 3 member board of trustees for the El Monte or Savannah Cemetery. From that article, it would seem that the City had undertaken some type of legal jurisdiction over the cemetery during that time period.
In checking with the LA County Tax Assessor's office, in 2003 they were unable to provide me with a deed instrument evidencing that the Savannah Cemetery Association held any legal interest in the cemetery at all.
The 1872 statute did not require a deed be recorded in order for the public to acquire its legal interest. At the time that the title would have vested (circa 1880), it was located in the unincorporated territory of the county and would, at that time, have been directed by the state to be under the jurisdiction of county board of supervisors. Now that it is within the city limits of the City of Rosemead, it is most likely that the city accepted jurisdiction sometime in the early to mid-1960s.
I have notified the State Cemetery and Funeral Bureau (CFB) of the present board of trustees email. The CFB has had some prior experience with dealing with abandoned cemeteries and may have some input to potential solutions to this problem.
Would you please advise me if you have any information about the email (below) and what has, once again, led to the threatened abandonment of this most historical and cultural resource of your city? This is a public cemetery and the matter of its future protection and preservation is of utmost importance.
For more on what I posted to the Saving Graves website, please go to:
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Should you have any questions, please let me know.
Sue Silver, State Coordinator
California Saving Graves
(Email referred to in the above)
From: BOB BRUESCH email@example.com
To: Anna Guess Pick Savannah
Sent: Thu, 15 Jun 2006 13:46:25 -0700
The situation at Savannah Pioneer Cemetery has reached the critical level. After several newspaper articles, meetings and requests for help from city officials, nothing has been done to help the Cemetery Assoc. Board to either raise enough capital to keep the site operating or assist the board in ceasing operation. Since cemeteries are operated under a special department of the State Government under legal charters, the Board is in a quandary as to what should be done next. We don't have the financial resources to hire legal representation and our financial reserves are practically non-existent since we have sold no new plots for the past three years.
On TUESDAY, JUNE 20TH, THE BOARD WILL HOLD A SPECIAL MEETING AT THE CEMETERY AT 9 AM. I have been informed that most of the Board members will formally resign at this time. What happens after this is open to conjecture. Please be advised that it would be important that as many of the families who own plots at the Cemetery have a representative there as interested observers. I have invited Rosemead City Officials to attend this important meeting. Thank you.
Bob Bruesch, Cemetery Board Vice President