GLENDALE — Family and friends visited their loved ones’ graves on Sunday at Grand View Memorial Park, six days after a Los Angeles Superior court ordered the cemetery to be opened.
Judge Anthony Mohr signed a court order on June 24 during the hearing at the Central Civil West Courthouse, allowing Glendale’s oldest cemetery be open Sunday, July 13 and July 27.
Sunday’s opening was the third since August, when city-funded public visitations were halted after fire officials said the cemetery presented several safety hazards, such as dry grass, brittle tree bark and limited water access, said attorney David Baum, who represents cemetery operator Moshe Goldsman.
The cemetery has been under scrutiny since October 2005, when state investigators found that the remains of 4,000 people had not been properly buried or disposed. Since the cemetery’s troubles began, multiple lawsuits and a class-action lawsuit have been filed against the cemetery by family members of those buried at Grand View.
But on Sunday, family and friends had a chance to visit their loved ones’ graves, bringing flowers, urns, gardening tools to clean around headstones and American flags to display on the graves.
More families visited graves on Sunday than the previous opening on May 25, Baum said.
The cemetery should be open more often to families, said attorney Mary Der-Parseghian, who represents a group of families suing the cemetery.
“The cemetery just needs to open,” she said. “That’s what difficult for them.”
Glendale resident Joan Cameron carried a pitchfork as she and her daughter, Cassandra, searched for her great-grandfather’s grave.
She dug through dry grass and dirt, looking for her great-grandfather’s headstone.
Cameron uncovered other headstones in her other cemetery visits but couldn’t find her great-grandfather’s grave.
“We’re trying very hard to figure out where he is,” she said.
Several of the cemetery’s headstones are covered with dry grass and dirt.
Beverly Tognetti and her husband, Phil, trimmed away grass and wiped away dirt from her mother, father, grandmother and aunt’s graves at the cemetery on Sunday.
“It used to be beautiful,” she said of the cemetery.
The couple said they first began having problems at the cemetery in 1990, when Phil Tognetti noticed his mother-in-law’s coffin was only inches away from the grass surface.
He went to his mother-in-law’s grave after a rainstorm and tried to pack fresh dirt along the headstone when he felt the coffin, he said.
He said he complained to the cemetery about the almost exposed coffin. Cemetery officials placed 2 feet of dirt over his mother-in-law’s plot, he said.
“We never thought it would turn out to look like this,” Phil Tognetti said. “It’s a sad situation.”
In August 2007, the city obtained a public nuisance abatement order against the property that allowed it to bypass legal hurdles and do the cleanup work itself.
Goldsman, who closed the cemetery after financial hardship, has invested more money into the irrigation system and other improvements.
A temporary irrigation system was installed at the cemetery on Sunday, Baum said. But he expects a more efficient system using reclaimed water will be installed in about two weeks.
Goldsman took over as operator after the state removed owner and operator Marsha Lee Howard from her post in November 2005 and prohibited the cemetery from conducting new business.
Goldsman’s attorney and attorneys representing the families have been working together on a list of future cemetery openings.
The cemetery is improving, Arleta resident Harvey Wise said.
He visits the graves of his seven family members at the cemetery during each opening.
“It’s looking a lot better than it used to be,” Wise said.
He said he hoped the cemetery would only get better, since he already had a plot reserved for himself.
VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.