Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Photo Essay: Verdugo Hills Cemetery - Deteriorated, Vandalized, and Washed Away

There are plenty of closed cemeteries around LA County, which filled up with dead pioneers whose families moved on somewhere else. But what other non-operating, deteriorated cemetery was closed after as grizzly or disastrous event as Verdugo Cemetery?



Dedicated in 1922 to serve the areas of Sunland and Tujunga, the Hills of Peace Cemetery (later renamed Verdugo Hills) reached capacity in the 1970s. The most recent headstones you see are from, say, 1972. There's one crypt in the mausoleum dating back to 1977 (appropriately vandalized with a black spray paint stencil that reads "FAITH" in gangsta font).



And although many of the deceased families are still alive, and still local to the Crescenta Valley area, they are granted only very limited visitation rights.



You see, this peaceful place...



...dotted with trees...



...up on a hill...



...which now looks barren...



...cleared of its thick brush...



...and of many a headstone...



...may have seemed like a good final resting place for its first interment (Parson James Wornum, a local minister)...



...but those pioneers buried at the top of a knoll...



...including two Civil War veterans...



...would witness the arrival of torrential rains in February 1978...



...which exhumed dozens of corpses...



...and washed them out of the south-facing slope, carrying them downstream into local residents' backyards, to be retrieved later and reinterred, higher up on the hill.



The cemetery closed to further burials in 1979...



...and, while open to the public...



...faced such dramatic vandalism dating back as far as 1973 and continuing throughout the '80s and '90s...



...including headstones, plaques and marble stolen, and bodies exhumed...



...that families actually moved their loved ones from their crypts, and the cemetery finally closed to the public in 2002.



Volunteers now clear the brush and maintain the property, which does open for occasional tours...



...and can point you to the graves of the heroes of World Wars I and II.




While some headstones are original, many had to be replaced.



There are over 2000 burials here, yet less than 200 markers remain.




A "Garden of Remembrance" was created to provide a resting place for the "lost" and never placed headstones.



Flood victim bodies from the south slope were reinterred in a mass grave in front of a flagpole, marked by a marble plaque that reads "Name was here perhaps but certainly known to God."



The flood of 1978 was perhaps the last straw for Verdugo Hills Cemetery...



...but years before that...



...cremated remains were disposed of improperly...



...bones and ash out in the open in an exposed pile...



...and reports of a "stench" from improperly sealed crypts.



Today, there are only a couple of occupants left in the crypts, and some of the headstones are just barely hanging onto the side of the slope...



...while others are sinking.



Upkeep has been historically so bad...



...it was once referred to as California's worst cemetery.



The ground is now - and was at the time - unstable due to gopher holes...



...which filled with rainwater during the downpour, exacerbating the flood and causing the hillside to collapse, exposing several coffins: a situation that could conceivably happen again if we got enough rain, though some precautions have been taken to stabilize the ground (at least, more than in 1978).



When the cemetery closed, and ownership shifted from a private corporation...



...the City of Los Angeles built a fence around the perimeter, topped with barbed wire, to prevent further vandalism.



Only problem?



They left some graves (and even at least one piece of exposed, broken coffin) outside the fence line.



Verdugo Hills of Peace Pioneer Cemetery was designated a Historic Cultural Monument in 2009 by the Cultural Heritage Commission of the City of Los Angeles...



...but they really don't want anyone visiting here. After the main flood and resulting landslide of 1978, and a subsequent flood (which exposed five corpses) two years later, it's already been through an absolute nightmare (as have its neighbors). And that's enough.

Maybe it was just built in the wrong place. But it's there now, and it's full.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Where the Dead Rest in a Dead Village
Photo Essay: Fairmount Cemetery, For Those Who Pass