November 24, 2012

Photo Essay: Where the Dead Rest in a Dead Village

One expects to find lots of ghost towns in the former gold- and silver-mining areas of California (namely, in the Eastern Sierras, like Bodie).

But Los Angeles County? What about its ghostly past?

I've posted extensively about Surfridge, the community that vanished from its oceanview bluffs next to LAX (which you can read about here, here and here), but there are other towns and villages that have vanished from our maps and the public consciousness, not too far from here.

Case in point: Spadra.

As part of the Rancho San Jose (a Mexican land grant given to LA families in the 1830s), Spadra was the first American settlement in the Pomona Valley, and became a thriving village in the 1860s. It was settled mostly by poor families who fleed the South - giving the townsite its nickname "Monkeytown," since the affluents nearby thought the tradesmen who settled Spadra were just a bunch of monkeys.

Spadra once had a bustling center with all varieties of small town businesses, and a surprising number of controversial deaths, including murders, suicides, and murder-suicides.

It definitely needed a cemetery.

In the 1870s, the Southern Pacific Railroad included a route from LA to Spadra, sparking interest in developing it. Shortly thereafter, however, the rail route was extended west all the way to Colton in the Inland Empire, therefore bypassing Spadra, sealing its fate as a ghost town. As a result, it was gobbled up by the growing town of Pomona. And although the cemetery of Spadra still exists, it's located across the train tracks, hidden under the 57 freeway.

Inextricably tied to the history of the Pomona Valley is prominent LA developer Louis Phillips, a wealthy rancher who owned a significant acreage of land in the former Rancho San Jose, and whose grave can be found at Spadra Cemetery. His famous mansion is just down the road (blog post forthcoming).

The railroad once ran through his Spadra ranch.

Phillips' headstone had been vandalized and toppled many years ago, but since has been righted. Not everyone buried at Spadra Cemetery has been so lucky.

There are the lost...



...and forgotten.

There are the cracked...



...and shattered.

Spadra Cemetery is notoriously difficult to get into, usually guarded by a locked wrought iron fence. It's even more difficult to find - if you are lucky to have ever even heard about it.

It must not host many visitors.

But those buried there - from whatever mysterious circumstances that brought them to their ultimate ends - probably don't notice. They've moved on, having reached the end of the trail...

...or have merely just gone home.

The Spadra Cemetery not only memorializes the residents of Spadra who have passed, but the village of Spadra itself, also deceased - disappeared from maps, dropped off the train line, businesses closed, forgotten by most.


  1. I've been there several times in high school about 20 years ago, we would jump a chain link fence and follow the train tracks under the 57 freeway to get there