The three employees of the historic Wilmington Cemetery lost their jobs last week in the continuing financial crisis at the 130-year-old graveyard, which claims to be the oldest operating cemetery in Los Angeles County.
Cemetery manager Dave Baker said Thursday that he and his crew got layoff notices and that the publicly operated cemetery was to be locked Friday. Earlier, the county Accounting Division froze the cemetery's bank account, saying it was overdrawn by $21,428.
"No admittance will be allowed," Baker said. "That means no more burials and no maintenance of any kind."
Exception for Father's Day
Today, Father's Day, will be an exception. The cemetery will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. under an arrangement between county Supervisor Deane Dana and the assessment district that operates the cemetery.
Baker said he and his men have not been paid for five weeks and are owed about $4,500. Dade Albright, president of the cemetery board of trustees, gave each $100 of his own money when he laid them off, Baker said.
Albright said he did not know about the cemetery district's financial plight until the employees stopped getting paid. He said he gave the employees money "because they have been real good," adding, "They will get their pay."
Baker said one employee who was laid off, 70-year-old Abe Gordillo, has been with the cemetery for 16 years and has missed only two days of work.
Dana's Harbor-area deputy, Mitch Maricich, said he has called a meeting of county and Los Angeles city officials for Monday in an effort to find out why the cemetery has financial problems and how to solve them.
He said that, at the least, he wants to work with Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, whose district includes Wilmington, to see if the city or county can provide maintenance until the problem is resolved.
The cemetery is run by a four-member board of trustees and is funded through the sale of plots and taxes collected by the Wilmington Cemetery District. The district was set up in 1958 to operate the cemetery after it had been privately owned for years and had become neglected. Tax revenues total $19,777 for the current fiscal year.
Fuzzy Fiscal Picture
What caused the district's financial problems is unclear. All checks have to be authorized by the board, but the county issues them and handles the district's bookkeeping.
Local historians say the 10-acre Wilmington Cemetery enjoyed its best days a century ago. It was once the resting place of Wilmington founder Phineas Banning, who lived a short distance from the cemetery and was buried there in 1885.
Banning's second wife removed his remains to Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, but the remains of his first wife and five of his children are still at Wilmington Cemetery.
"They can't keep it closed," Baker said.
"There are numbers of people who own property who have yet to use it."