How the City of Long Beach Should Save Sunnyside Cemetery

By: 
Gerrie Schipske

The remaining members of the Sunnyside Cemetery board of directors have made it public that unless they get some type of help they will have to padlock this historic site and walk away.

They aren’t crying “wolf” folks. The board is comprised of relatives of the buried and there are only a few remaining. The cemetery manager retired, which only leaves a part-time maintenance man who valiantly tries to keep up with the weeding and infrequent watering of the 13-acre site of more than 16,000 graves.

So what is the problem? Sunnyside is a privately owned historic cemetery that contains some of the earliest graves in the city. It has one of the largest burial areas of Civil War veterans in the area. A former owner looted the money used to maintain the cemetery and the cemetery cannot generate new income.

There is an “endowment care fund” that is comprised of the fees given by those who paid to have relatives and friends buried there.But there have not been new burials or additional funds for many, many years. Under state law, the endowment care fund principal has to be invested and  only the net income can be used for the maintenance, repair, or restoration of the cemetery property. There is not “net income” because of almost non-existent interest rates.

The former manager tried his best to generate some income by allowing movies and concerts, filming and the Historical Society of Long Beach tour to be held there. But it didn’t pay the water bills to keep the grounds green nor did it pay to replace broken sprinklers or missing headstones or to remove the mold that is in the basement of the office building that houses burial documents from the early 1900s.

Because I wrote the book “Historic Cemeteries of Long Beach” I have had a long-time interest in trying to save the place because it contains some incredible history of the city that needs to be preserved. I reached out to the city Water Department and asked if they could pipe in recycled water that would reduce the cost of using drinking water on the grass. But the department said “no.”

I even reached out to the management at Forest Lawn Long Beach but they declined because of the historic confusion between the two sites. The Forest Lawn site was originally known as Sunnyside Mausoleum and was built in the 1920s so that bodies from Sunnyside could be moved to allow oil drilling. Some bodies were moved but drilling was not allowed. It’s taken them years to differentiate from the older site. Also, without space to bury people or inter their ashes (cremains), Forest Lawn cannot make any money by taking over the site.

So here are some of the other ways the cemetery could be saved:

  • Assist in getting the Sunnyside Cemetery designated a historical site by the state and the federal government to make it eligible for grants. The City of Long Beach designated Sunnyside a historic landmark. (But interestingly, it has not designated its own, older historic cemetery as a landmark.)
  • Have the city’s Park and Recreation Department take it over. A chain-linked fence separates Sunnyside from the Municipal Cemetery and quite honestly, the public thinks they are connected.
  • Through Partners of Parks, a foundation could be established, similar to what was done for the two historical ranchos. Funds could be raised and a board could oversee.
  • Build a niche wall along all the existing walls and allow for the interment of ashes (cremains). This would raise money.
  • Encourage the City of Long Beach Water Department and the Metropolitan Water District to install a recycled-water pipe system so that valuable drinking water is no longer used in either Sunnyside or the city cemetery.
  • Request that the city oil operator investigate if oil still remains underneath Sunnyside as it might be a source of revenue to keep the cemetery open.

gerrie@beachcomber.news

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Comments

What are the montly cost to kerp the property up and running? Is the land exempt from paying property taxes?

You might ask the remaining board if they will accept an operating agreement with the city.

I have several relatives on my mother's side buried there. Every once in a while I go over there and clean the grave but it really isn't enough. I wouldn't have known that I even have relatives there if my mother hadn't told me. There should be some way to contact living relatives of the people there and start a fund of some type.

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