January 28, 2014

Photo Essay: Verdugo Hills Cemetery - Deteriorated, Vandalized, and Washed Away (Updated for 2022)

[Last updated 5/22/22 9:33 PM PT—I'm keeping this post up as a historical record, but lots has happened at Verdugo Hills Cemetery since 2014. For the latest on its restoration efforts for its centennial, please see my latest blog post here.]

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 grisly 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... 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.

For the latest photos of Verdugo Hills Cemetery circa 2022 after a massive restoration effort in conjunction with its centennial, see my most recent blog post here. 

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


  1. My Aunt Janice was buried here after she lost her valiant fight with breast cancer in 1969. She was 32 years old and a devout Mormon, which is why she was buried here. Years ago my sister and I were told it was owned and eventually abandoned by the Mormon church. We visited the cemetery to see if we could find her grave and were shocked at what we saw. There was a “caretaker” living there who told us some of the graves were dug up and used as a bbq area to cook meat, drink and do drugs by some pretty bad folks who partied there. I cannot express the horror, sorrow and grief that felt after seeing this nightmare. We felt like we lost her all over again. We wanted to move her but were not sure where she was located on the property and could not find anyone who knew, or whether she was even still there. Thanks to all who have worked so hard to clean up the horrible mess at this cemetery. Most importantly, rest in peace Auntie. We love you forever. In loving memory of Janice Lorraine Kingsley. Always loved, never forgotten.

    1. To; LORRAINE KINGSLEY As of 2020 there is a effort to try to clean & restore as much
      as possible the cemetery for the 100 yr. anniversary. The volunteers are finding
      headstones in the process & if any info becomes available we will contact you. BILL

    2. I have located the resting place of your Auntie Janice in the cemetery records. She does not have a headstone but I now know where she resting. I will pass along your message of forever love and rest in peace. Thank you, Craig Durst

  2. The "Wayne" headstone in this photo essay is that of my mother's uncle, Isaac Wayne Spencer. He was the second of two twin boys, born on an Oregon homestead. As young children their family sailed down the coast and landed in Santa Monica, then moved to Tujunga. He and his twin brother were student janitors, helping build and take care of the pioneer school. Wayne had only one leg, but was so proficient with his wooden leg that he could win footraces against other boys at school. An accomplished violinist, Wayne was accepted into the LA Philharmonic, but was killed by a drunk driver that same year.

    1. Great information for my walking history tour at the Grand Centennial Event at Verdugo Hills Cemetery on April 23rd, 2022! Thank you and please mark that day in your calendar and join us! Please. Craig Durst Sign up at to get info on what's happening at VHC

    2. Thank you so much for putting a story behind the headstone. It was enjoyable to learn more about your relative.

  3. my uncle, Smith Sydney provin, was buried there. we visited the cemetery in 2014 but it was closed to the public and we were not able to gain access. do you by chance have any information on his burial site? appreciate all the hard work you have done. it has not gone unnoticed. Elizabeth Provin Fekete

    1. I just checked all my photos and I don't have one of your uncle's marker. However, you can reach out to a guy named Craig Durst "The History Hunter" of Tujunga, who is spearheading the centennial campaign to clean up Verdugo Hills. You can reach him through the Little Landers Historical Society or at one of these links:

  4. Hi,
    Would anyone have any information on a Charlie Allison. He was buried here in 1975. He's my Grandpa.

    1. Yes I have the burial location for Charles Joseph Allison at the Verdugo Hills Cemetery. You can sign up for information at or reach out to Craig Durst at Currently Volunteer Days are the second Saturday of each month from 9am-3pm. You are welcome to come by and I'll show you the location of his resting place. There are very few headstones so there is a very good chance he doesn't have one. Craig Durst, "The History Hunter"

    2. Yes, I have found the record of your uncles burial site. You would be welcomed visitor. Currently Volunteer Days are the 2nd Saturday of each month at 7000 Parsons Trail. Otherwise you can reach me through to make arrangements for a visit. You can also sign up at to receive info on what is currently going on at the cemetery. Thank you, Craig Durst - And Thank you Sandi

  5. Thank you very much! I'm excited to go there and pay my respects.

  6. My grandfather's grave marker is pictured here, Vaughn Leroy Tracey. He tragically died after being hit by a bus in 1968, days after his youngest daughter's 4th birthday ( my mother). He was a veteran and father of 5 young children when he passed. My mother only recollected "rolling green hills" and we never knew where he was buried, only that he had washed up in someone's backyard years later. To my knowledge, no family member has visited his grave since the day he was interred. As my mother and I live out of state, I want to thank the volunteers and community for cleaning up the cemetery and giving my grandpa's grave the respect that he deserves.

  7. I have a great Uncle and Aunt that were buried there. William Oren Holman and Helen M. Holman. Do you have that informnation?

    1. I don't but try reaching out to Craig Durst at friendsofverdugohillscemetery [dot] com or BoltonHall [dot] com. Best of luck!

  8. Hi there, I'm checking out the cemetery records and I only see "Martha Holman (1883-1967). If that's rings a bell, her memorial page on FindAGrave has been updated, pending approval by the original creator.