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Verdugo Views: Forest Lawn has blossomed over the years in Glendale

Verdugo Views: Forest Lawn has blossomed over the years in Glendale
Forest Lawn Memorial Park's landscaping and picturesque churches turned the cemetery into a popular tourist attraction and inspired postcards such as this one. At one time, the tower was the highest landmark north of Los Angeles. Postcard, ca mid 1930s. (Courtesy of Katherine Yamada)

Nowadays, Forest Lawn — Glendale is 300-plus acres of green space.

The gently sloping hillsides are filled with trees, bushes and flowering plants along with statues, artwork, fountains and occasional churches and other buildings.

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However, the cemetery didn’t always look this way.

It was not called Forest Lawn when the cemetery first opened in 1906.

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It was a relatively small property covered with brush, a few non-native eucalyptus trees and some upright headstones.

The area’s main thoroughfare, San Fernando Road, was still unpaved.

The land had once been the home of Susan Glassell Mitchell, daughter of lawyer Andrew Glassell, who, along with several others, filed a lawsuit, which became known as the “Great Partition of 1871.” (See “Note to Readers” for more on the Great Partition.)

Hubert Eaton began working at the cemetery in 1912. Within five years, he had taken over as manager and had renamed it Forest Lawn Memorial Park, located at 1712 S. Glendale Ave.

Hundreds of trees and bushes were planted, sweeping lawns were installed and upright headstones were discontinued to further the park-like setting.

Forest Lawn became a popular tourist attraction, with more than 1,000 weekly visitors in the 1940s.

Life magazine described it this way: “Beyond the gates, stretch 303 acres of smooth lawn, unmarred by tombstones. Bright flowers bloom in the grass. Fountains splash, recorded music plays and the landscape is dotted with bronze and marble statues,’’ as noted in the Jan. 3, 1944, edition, found online at books.google.com.

The park’s plantings have matured over the years to provide a scenic and quiet respite from the busy streets surrounding it.

Next month, Forest Lawn, Glendale, will be the focus of three events sponsored by the Glendale Historical Society, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary by highlighting several Glendale institutions.

On March 14, John F. Llewellyn, chair of Forest Lawn’s board of directors, will talk about his great uncle, Hubert Eaton, the man who inspired the transformation described above.

Llewellyn’s recent book, “Birth of a Cemetery: Forest Lawn Memorial Park,” tells the story of “the cemetery’s chaotic early years beginning in 1905, a year before the cemetery opened,” according to information provided by event chair Peter Rusch.

The lecture, free and open to the public, will be held at 7 p.m. at the Glendale Downtown Central Library, 222 E. Harvard St.

Two more events, both at Forest Lawn, Glendale, are scheduled for the following week.

Gardening supervisor Rick Leach will reveal some of the park’s secrets during a talk at 7 p.m. on March 21 at Little Church of the Flowers.

At 1 p.m. on March 23, Leach will take guests behind the locked gates of some of the private gardens.

These two events are a combined ticket and reservations are required.

Tickets are $40 for Glendale Historical Society members and $50 for non-members.

For more information, visit glendalehistorical.org and search under “Events.”

Note to Readers:

Here are some of the facts behind the “Great Partition of 1871” mentioned above:

In 1784, Jose Maria Verdugo, a young soldier of the Spanish king, was granted a 36,403-acre property, Rancho San Rafael, which now includes the cities of Glendale, Burbank, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, the western part of Pasadena and all the area in the triangle formed by the junction of the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River, as recorded by Carroll W. Parcher in his 1957 “Glendale Community Book.”

Verdugo died in 1831, leaving the rancho to his son, Julio, and to a daughter, Catalina. Some of the land was sold on a somewhat informal basis.

Then, Julio Verdugo took out a mortgage to build a new house and later defaulted on the loan. The resulting confusion led to multiple lawsuits and the “Great Partition.”

In 1871, the court gave Benjamin Dreyfus the largest allotment, more than 8,000 acres, now Eagle Rock and Tropico.

Glassell and Alfred B. Chapman were awarded Rancho La Canada and more than 2,000 acres of what is now Highland Park and York Valley.

David Burbank was awarded 4,603 acres, which eventually became our neighboring city.

Three other men, O. W. Childs, Captain C. E. Thom and Prudent Beaudry, also received title to land.

Catalina and her nephew Teodoro (one of Julio’s sons) were awarded more than 3,300 acres, including Verdugo Canyon.

She spent her later years living with Teodoro in the small adobe he built for his family. It is now known as Catalina Adobe.

Julio Verdugo retained his house and 200 acres. He died in 1876, five years after the great partition. (Verdugo Views Sept. 1, 2001)

Katherine Yamada can be reached at katherineyamada@gmail.com. or by mail at Verdugo Views, c/o Glendale News-Press, 453 S. Spring St., Suite 308, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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