Evergreen Cemetery is awash in history, and drowning in blight

LA Times – November 28, 2014

By Doug Smith and Ryan Menezes

Evergreen Cemetery

Ana Paz waters while her husband, Ryne Climaco, cuts the grass on and around the grave of a family member at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times)

Laura Mayan attached a crinkle hose to a nearby faucet and dragged it over to the dirt-covered plot at Evergreen Cemetery where her grandmother was buried three years ago. As her mother watched and her daughter frolicked the grounds in a pink Sunday dress, Mayan sprayed water on the sparse weeds sprouting around her grandmother’s grave and another beside it.

It was a hopeless cause. Evergreen Cemetery is green no more.

Once an emerald treasure of Boyle Heights, the expanse of grass and old-world headstones has deteriorated into a wasteland of dead trees, bare dirt and ankle-high shrubs. Its slide from Eastside landmark to neighborhood blight is a tortured saga of broken sprinklers, hapless management, drought and a state agency that has threatened to decertify the cemetery but has limited power to rehabilitate it.

Evergreen’s plight is part of a national crisis of historic cemeteries that have too little space for burials to sustain a healthy cash flow. And while other cemeteries in the state struggle with the drought, the problems at Evergreen run deeper.

Founded in the 1870s, Evergreen became a common ground where waves of diverse immigrants share a final resting place. Jews who populated Boyle Heights in the early 20th century lie there alongside converted Baptist land barons Isaac Lankershim and Isaac Van Nuys, a potter’s field of anonymous Chinese laborers and a section of monuments to the circus performers of a bygone era.

Among the cemetery’s notables is one of L.A.’s most colorful black political pioneers, janitor-turned-City Councilman Gilbert Lindsay. A large section of the grounds is occupied by Japanese Americans who had spilled over from Little Tokyo and moved east to Boyle Heights.

Today, Japanese Americans converge with Latino families paying their respects at family plots. When they arrive, they are confronted with 69 acres of neglect.
lRelated Gilbert Lindsay, 1st L.A. Black Councilman, Dies

The little greenery that remains is largely maintained by families of the recently buried who tend to the graves themselves. They bring sprinklers and string cutters along with folding chairs on their visits to their loved ones’ graves.

Their work maintains a few odd-looking patches of living grass amid the brown earth that forms a prominent half-mile vista between Cesar Chavez Boulevard and 1st Street.

State cemetery officials blame Evergreen’s conditions on its owner, Glenn Wong, who has been under continuous scrutiny for poor practices going back more than a decade.
Evergreen Cemetery.  Once an emerald treasure of Boyle Heights, Evergreen Cemetery has deteriorated into a wasteland of bare dirt and weeds. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times)

Wong faced criminal and civil proceedings in 2001 after investigators found bones and pieces of caskets sprinkled atop the grounds of Woodlawn Cemetery in Compton, which he also owned. He was charged administratively with grave desecration, unlawful burial of multiple bodies in a single plot, failure to inter within a reasonable time and failure to keep ownership records. The state also accused him of unlawfully spending the endowment funds of both Woodlawn and Evergreen.

Evergreen Cemetery

Once an emerald treasure of Boyle Heights, Evergreen Cemetery has deteriorated into a wasteland of bare dirt and weeds. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times)

In the criminal case, Wong pleaded no contest to felony conspiracy and two misdemeanors. He was ordered to pay $3,240 in fines and reimburse the Woodlawn endowment fund $96,760. He was placed on two years’ probation and ordered to sell Woodlawn within 270 days.

In 2006, state investigators found more bone fragments — this time in a dirt pile at Evergreen. After being ordered to sift through the dirt, Evergreen eventually turned over 23 bags of bones to the Los Angeles County Coroner. The coroner found the remains of at least five different people among them, and Evergreen was placed on probation.

The Cemetery and Funeral Bureau revoked Evergreen’s operating license in 2010, but a settlement allowed Wong to continue operating during four years of probation.

By the time the probation ended last spring, Evergreen’s grounds had fallen into decay. The Cemetery Bureau again moved to shut down the cemetery for poor maintenance.

In a brief interview at his office, Wong attributed the cemetery’s condition to a litany of problems beyond his control: watering restrictions imposed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the high cost of water, clay-packed soil, hilly terrain that causes water to run off high spots and headstones that block sprinklers.

“For what we’re doing, for what we have, yes, we’re doing the best we can,” Wong said.

Wong said he is working on a solution with the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina to transport cheaper recycled water to the cemetery.

State officials dismissed Wong’s contention that the dilapidated irrigation system and watering restrictions imposed by the Department of Water and Power precluded effective maintenance.

In October, Evergreen was again placed on two more years of probation, as the result of another settlement agreement.

Evergreen Cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery’s slide from landmark to blight is a saga of hapless management, drought and a state agency that has threatened to decertify the cemetery but has limited power to rehabilitate it. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times)

Evergreen Cemetery’s slide from landmark to blight is a saga of hapless management, drought and a state agency that has threatened to decertify the cemetery but has limited power to rehabilitate it. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times)

In that settlement, the bureau conceded that it might be difficult to maintain the grounds’ during the drought. It ordered Evergreen only to keep “grass and plants as green as seasonably possible in accordance with natural terrain, availability of water, and any established watering restrictions.”

The settlement also acknowledged the limitations of Evergreen’s endowment, funded by a mandatory fee added to each burial. It ordered Wong to notify customers “that the cemetery’s grounds may not be watered on a regular basis due to limitations imposed by” its endowment and drought conditions.

Wong declined to discuss the cemetery’s finances.

According to financial records filed with the state, Evergreen maintains an endowment of about $3 million. State law allows it to spend only a portion of the earnings of that fund each year, however. Last year, Evergreen took about $106,000 in earnings from the endowment, of which $72,802 went to maintenance.

The Cemetery Bureau has no good options, said Christopher A. Brown, a Fresno attorney who represents cemeteries. Because of a quirk in cemetery law, Brown said, cemetery owners are prohibited from spending endowment money on portions of the grounds pre-dating the institution of endowment care fees in the early 1930s.

The state could compel Wong to sell Evergreen. But that could take years, and an aging cemetery with little room for expansion wouldn’t make an attractive investment, experts said. It could also take over the cemetery, but the state is usually reluctant to take on such responsibilities, the experts added.

In the meantime, Evergreen’s heritage continues to rest with those whose loved ones are buried there.

Ana Paz and her husband, Ryne Climaco, spend two to four hours there every Sunday to water the grave of Paz’s mother and several others — as wide as the arc of portable impact sprinkler that Climaco brings.

When she asked the management to tend the grass at her mother’s grave, Paz said she was told the sprinklers were broken.

Paz has developed a connection to the graves around her mother’s. Sometimes she’ll meet the families of the buried and befriend them. She also lets her imagination come up with pictures of the people she never knew, like the 18-year-old man buried nearby and the circus performers in the east part of the lawn.

Paz and Climaco, both 46, said they have come to accept that they can maintain the lot better than the grounds crew will. As residents of Echo Park, where homes rarely come with lawns, they have made taking care of the grave site their gardening.
lRelated Gilbert Lindsay, 1st L.A. Black Councilman, Dies

“It’s peaceful here,” Paz said.

For Mayan, there is less peace and more aggravation when she visits the graveside of her grandmother, Maria Peralta.

She said she wants to move her grandmother’s remains to another cemetery, but doesn’t know if she can afford another burial. She said she does what she can to make up for the lack of maintenance by Evergreen staff.

“They don’t really care about it,” Mayan said of the grounds crew.

After spraying the dirt and some potted flowers for awhile, Mayan rolled up the hose and put it in a yellow pail her mother held. With that, the three generations of Peralta’s descendants walked to their car and drove away.





Revoke Tony Soo Hoo’s License as Owner of Evergreen Cemetery

Please sign the Change.org petition to revoke Tony Soo Hoo’s ownership of Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles.


My name is Jonvive Anguiano I have 4 generations of Family Members Buried at Evergreen Cemetery Located at: 204 N Evergreen Ave  Los Angeles, CA 90033.

I buried my Mother Sheleen Romero there July 23, 2012, it cost thousands of dollars to burry your loved ones. And when I go to visit my Mom there is nothing green at all about Evergreen Cemetery, actually all of the entire Cemetary is Yellow & Brown. It looks hedious!!

I’m asking that you sign my petition to demand the Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery and Funeral Bureau to Stop slapping Mr. Tony Soo Hoo on the wrist for previous Violations and just take away his license and hire someone else who would do a better job; of the maintenance and up keep of Evergreen Cemetery.




Families and Politicians Push for Improvements at Evergreen Cemetery

By Imelda Mercado on March 24, 2014

A woman carrying a bucket walks back and forth between a rusty water faucet and her mother-in-law’s grave. She throws water on the plot, which is the only green area surrounded by acres of brown.

Leslie Letrán waters the grave because cemetery workers don’t. “We come at least twice a month to water,” she says. “It’s hard to maintain. It shouldn’t be us.”


Evergreen Cemetery holds an important place in the lives of many people both in and outside of Boyle Heights, either because they have someone buried there or because they live in the community.

At 136 years old, it is the oldest cemetery in Los Angeles. More than 300,000 people are buried there, including musicians and actors, Japanese American war veterans and former mayors and council members of Los Angeles.
Today, family members and politicians are pushing for improvements in the caretaking of the cemetery. Covering more than 67 acres in Boyle Heights, Evergreen serves not only as a place to visit the deceased, but also as a green space in a neighborhood with few open areas.


Drought or neglect?

Cemetery officials have blamed the dry grass on citywide drought restrictions from the Department of Water and Power. But city water officials say the cemetery is not watering as much as it could because of its antiquated irrigation system and lack of staff.

Robert Estrada, a DWP Water Conservation Specialist, believes there are several reasons why Evergreen Cemetery looks the way it does. He notes that the cemetery’s watering system is old and likely has broken pipes.

“You get the pressure, but not the flow,” he says. “The gap between sprinklers is why it never gets green.”
Another problem, Estrada says, is that Evergreen does not have an automatic watering system. Its manual system requires staff to actually be on the grounds to operate the sprinklers.

Current restrictions limit watering on residential and commercial properties to three days a week, before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

Richard García, the grounds supervisor at Evergreen Cemetery, confirmed Estrada’s suspicion that the staff is not watering the entire cemetery three days a week. The grounds staff works from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and does not have enough time to turn on all the sprinklers, he says.


Not enough time

“We can’t do the whole cemetery in an hour and a half,” he says. “We barely get the cemetery covered in the week.”
Jonvive Anguiano, 34, has four generations of family buried in the cemetery and is not happy about the conditions. She started a petition on change.org to gain community support to force better management of the cemetery.

After six months, Anguiano has 750 supporters. Looking around while visiting the grave of her mother, she says, “It looks desolate. It doesn’t look like other cemeteries that I’ve seen.”

She adds, “They don’t care because their loved ones aren’t here. I don’t think they care enough.”
While other cemeteries, like Forest Lawn and Rose Hills, use recycled water or underground wells, García, the grounds supervisor, says that Evergreen lacks those options.

Recycled water is not available on the Eastside. DWP officials say a new irrigation system would be costly and not a likely investment at an old cemetery where there are few plots available to sell to bring in new revenue.

Over the years, Evergreen Cemetery has faced many complaints. The cemetery is owned by Tony Soo Hoo.

For more than a decade, Soo Hoo has been on probation with California’s Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery and Funeral Bureau for violations, including grave desecration and failing to document the location of burial sites.
Soo Hoo did not return phone calls from Boyle Heights Beat.

Anguiano, the petition circulator, says, “Many people have the same anger and love I do about the cemetery because of their loved ones, and they want to see something done about it because it is a part of their community.”
Both DWP and cemetery officials pointed out that there are hoses on the cemetery grounds, and community members may water their family plots.

The cemetery’s state of neglect also caught the attention of Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina. Calling it “Never green,” Molina has gotten involved in an effort to force management to revitalize Evergreen. She has gone to water the cemetery, and now has members of her staff monitoring to make sure watering is taking place.

“I think it’s not only the disrespect of the dead,” she says, “but the disrespect of the community.”

Photos by Sylvester Foley

Republished from: http://www.boyleheightsbeat.com/families-politicians-push-for-improvements-at-evergreen-cemetery-3926

County supervisor wants lawns revived at Boyle Heights cemetery

November 25, 2013


By Lucy Guanuna

Boyle Heights’ historic Evergreen Cemetery has not been living up to its name. There are only a few patches of green grass to be found at the 136-year-old cemetery. Instead, a forest of stone tombstones rise above a 67-acre field of mostly yellowed and dead lawn and barren patches of dirt. As the lack of lawn has attracted attention and complaints, L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has called the grounds a “disgrace, ” has launched a campaign to revitalize the grounds at Evergreen.

Evergreen Cemetery 11-23-2013 3-03-28 AM

Cemetery officials blame strict L.A. Department of Water and Power restrictions for the dry conditions at Evergreen, where some of the 300,000 gravestones bear notable names – such as Hollenbeck, Lankershim and Van Nuys – from the city’s past. But Molina and others blame cemetery administrators for the “blighted environment” at Evergreen. In an email newsletter, Molina said:

I believe the heavily unkempt grounds at this historic cemetery are a disgrace to everyone living in the surrounding Eastside neighborhoods! It’s also a disgrace to the renowned people who have been laid to rest here – which includes historic figures, celebrities, as well as a significant Chinese day laborer population from the turn of the last century.

Roxane Marquez, legislative and press deputy for Molina, said they have received a handful of complaints from residents within her 12 years of working in Molina’s office. Marquez said that Molina’s office is putting pressure on state agencies to enforce laws regarding the upkeep of the cemetery.

Evergreen Cemetery 11-23-2013 2-58-58 AM

A Whittier resident, Jonvive Anguiano, who has four generations of family buried at Evergreen, recently took matters into her own hands and started a Change.org petition demanding Tony Soo Hoo’s “license as owner of Evergreen Cemetery be revoked.” In her petition, Anguiano said:

“I buried my Mother Sheleen Romero there July 23, 2012, it cost thousands of dollars to burry your loved ones. And when I go to visit my Mom there is nothing green at all about Evergreen Cemetery, actually all of the entire Cemetary is Yellow & Brown. It looks hedious!!”

She has received more than 480 signatures within the last month.
But officials at Evergreen dispute the complaints, with Kavina Sam, a supervisor at Evergreen Cemetery, saying he feels they are being harassed.

“We are doing everything we can to water the grass. We haven’t received any complaints from locals because we pick up our trash and trim our trees and lawns,” Sam said. “If [Molina] keeps pushing, we’re going to have to go to court.”

Sam said they are doing everything they can to keep the lawn green but restrictions from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power prevent them from watering the lawn for more than 8 minutes per sprinkler, three days a week, which he said is devastating to the lawn, especially during the summer months.

Evergreen Cemetery 11-23-2013 2-47-53 AM

Evergreen Cemetery, however, has found ways to deal with the water restrictions. Visitors can leave their driver’s license and “rent” a hose if they want to water the grass around their loved one’s graves, which prevents Evergreen for being fined for watering the grass beyond the allotted time, Sam said. Although he admits they have irrigation pipes from the late 1800s that break often, the staff is gets them fixed within a day or two, he said.
Sam said the cemetery is working with Molina to try to get more watering time from the DWP and are looking into other sources of water, including recycled water.

Molina’s office has seen some signs of improvement. Marquez said it seems that Evergreen has been watering the lawn and it looks to have improved. But the office is currently monitoring conditions in hopes the lawn will improve before they pursue any further action.

“All we are asking is that existing regulations be followed, no more, no less,” Marquez said.

Lucy Guanuna, a journalism student at Cal State Northridge, has reported on a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.

Republished from: http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2013/11/county-supervisor-wants-lawn-revived-at-boyle-heights-cemetery/

Watch What you Touch at Evergreen Cemetery

Evergreen Headstones

Be careful where you walk or what you touch at Evergreen Cemetery.  Some of the headstones topple over easily.  It seems that the staff just doesn’t care enough to set the grave stones on a proper foundation.  They just prop them up when they get knocked down, only to fall again when the lawn mower drives by.

The maintenance staff is careless with the lawnmower.  It appears that they smacked this headstone while joy riding on the lawn mower and broke it in three.  Nice job guys.

Broken headstone at evergreen cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery Owner Disciplined Again by State of California

The state of California has been disciplining Evergreen Cemetery owner Tony Soo Hoo for over 11 years.  Isn’t it about time the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau of the State of California buried Tony Soo Hoo?

Click the link below to read the legal cases and complaints against Evergreen Memorial Care, Inc.

In the Matter of the Accusation Against:
Evergreen Memorial Care, Inc
DBA Evergreen Cemetery

Are you outraged on how the State of California continues to slap the hands of Tony Soo Hoo with probation year after year?  This crook should be kicked out of our neighborhood and never allowed to step anywhere near Boyle Heights.

Comment below on what you think should be done to restore decency and honor to our neighborhood and our loved ones interred at Evergreen Cemetery.

Evergreen Cemetery’s Owners License Revoked for Compton Cemetery in 2001

Compton Cemetery’s License Is Revoked

Regulations: The state cites numerous violations, including the burial of several bodies per grave.


State officials Wednesday revoked the license of a Compton cemetery accused of grave desecration and failure to properly dispose of human remains.

The revocation was part of a settlement reached between the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Cemetery and Funeral Bureau and Evergreen Memorial Care Inc., owner of Woodland Cemetery in Compton and Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Under the settlement, Woodlawn must be sold or transferred to new owners within 270 days of the revocation of its license, which takes effect March 22, said Tracy Weatherby, a spokeswoman for the bureau.

The owners also must retain a bureau-approved third party to provide for maintenance and public visitation of the 120-year-old cemetery, where no future burials will be permitted, she said.

“Revocation is the most severe discipline the bureau can impose, and it is reserved for the most egregious violations,” said Glen V. Ayers, chief of the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau. “But we are doing more than revoking a license: We are also looking to the future by providing recourse for those who purchased graves at Woodlawn and by finding long-term solutions for the care of the cemetery.”

Attorney Stephan Sadowsky, who is representing Evergreen Memorial Care, said, “It’s a fair settlement. Given the history of Woodlawn, where the current owners inherited these problems from prior owners . . . it serves to protect the innocent consumers who were injured.”

The owners must set aside 200 graves at Evergreen Cemetery and create a $50,000 fund to provide cash payments to customers with rights at Woodlawn they can no longer use, Weatherby said. They also must pay $210,000 in investigation and prosecution costs.

The bureau revoked Evergreen Cemetery’s license, but that revocation was stayed and the license was placed on five years’ probation.

Woodlawn was shut down in March after state investigators found bone fragments scattered about and discovered that cemetery operators had created 16 multiple graves by cutting across the existing graves of 48 bodies. They found that 61 bodies were buried in the 16 new multiple graves.

The bureau charged Evergreen Memorial Care with grave desecration, unlawful interment of more than one body in a single grave without proper authority, failure to properly dispose of human remains, failure to inter cremated remains, failure to keep adequate records of ownership of transfer of plots, and unlawful expenditure of Woodlawn and Evergreen endowment funds.

The settlement applies only to licensing disciplinary proceedings before the bureau and has no effect on civil or criminal actions. At least one civil lawsuit is pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court.