The Los Angeles County Crematory Cemetery

It is little understood but, at 1st and Lorena streets at the southeast corner of the original grounds of Evergreen Cemetery, which is operated by a private company and has been since 1877, there is a separate parcel operating as the Los Angeles County Crematory Cemetery and which has served indigent residents interred at the expense of the county. It also was utilized until the 1922 opening of the Chinese Cemetery in East Los Angeles as the final resting place for Chinese-Americans (which proved controversial when the remains of Chinese-Americans were found outside the bounds of the cemetery during the construction of the Metro Gold Line extension through the area several years ago.)
Operating at an East First Street address, with a dedicated entrance created there in 1920, replacing access that was previously through Evergreen, the facility was created at the time Evergreen was organized and included five acres dedicated as a “potter’s field” for indigent residents who were buried at public expense. The City of Los Angeles was the owner of the property from 1879. The Los Angeles Cemetery Association, owners of Evergreen, operated the county burial ground by contract, with the first interments occurring in 1880. In 1896, however, the county assumed direct control of the site and operations. In February 1917, this parcel, expanded to ten acres, was officially deeded over by the city to the county for $40,000. By 1922, there were over 13,000 persons interred in the cemetery, according to a county report. Thereafter, cremation became the only method of disposing of the remains of indigent persons whose remains were held by Los Angeles County.
It is also noteworthy that housing began to spring up around the cemetery during the 1920s, as the population continued to expand (and explode) in the region, so beautifying the grounds was done to accomodate the new neighbors. By late in the decade, the facility included a chapel, crematorium, garage, ash house, and two residences, one for the caretaker. In the 1960s, the county earmarked five acres as surplus property and it was sold to Evregreen’s owners, the Los Angeles Cemetery Association. The county crematory/cemetery is officially 3.9 acres (though it is a bit of a mystery as to what happened to the one acre not included in that total and the five acres sold to the LACA.) Fascinatingly, Evergreen put a susbtantial level of dirt fill over existing graves in the five acres it acquired from the county cemetery and began expanding its operations with new burials from the mid-1960s. In 1993, the LACA, after 116 years in operation, sold Evergreen to International Funeral Home, Inc.
Above are photographs of some rare documents from the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum and dating from March 1896 and March 1898 that consist of two “Reports of Interments” from the latter, providing the date, names of deceased, age, sex, and name of the undertaker or person who ordered the grave site. The third item is a “Statement of Interments in County Cemetery for Month of March 1896” and lists the deceased’s name, date of interment, the name of the undertaker.

The March 1896 statement involves sixteen persons interred in the county burial ground between the 2nd and 31st of that month. Only two were female, two were infants not identified as to gender, and the rest were male. In one case, that of Duane Whittaker, he was interred on the 7th, but either a mistake was made or someone claimed the body, because, five days later, the report stated “disinterment [of] the body of Duane Whittaker from the County to the Evergreen Semetery [sic] work done by the Sup. of Evergreen Semetery.” Notably, one of those buried in the county section was an E. G. Graves! Also included in the document was the list of performing undertakers or, in seven cases, directly from the county hospital, as well as which received fees of $4.00 or $6.00 from the county.

The March 1898 report covers (!) twenty-two people and represented an advancement in bureaucracy, in that it was on a preprinted form, rather than the completely handwritten one of two years prior. Issued from the office of cemetery superintendent S. C. Fifield, the two-page document included the ages of the deceased, ranging from the “infant twins of C.W. Junerige” and “unknown infant” to 85-year old Henry Kathor. Only five of the persons were female and two were Chinese, including 50-year old Ah Fong and 51-year old We Chung. Seven of the dead were infants or small children, one was a 9-year old, six were in their thirties and three were older than 70. There was even one man named George Suess, who was likely not, however, a doctor. Interestingly, the column preprinted as “Undertaker” was changed to “grave order by,” although it is not known the three persons listed, D. C. Barber, T. J. Stewart and George W. Campbell, were undertakers or county or city officials.

These documents are a window into the early history of Evergreen Cemetery and its lesser-known “sister,” as well as that of Boyle Heights.

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Contribution from Paul R. Spitzzeri, Collections Manager, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

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