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Work stops on excavation at old cemetery in Los Angeles

The head of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes says the project near La Placita church will be put on hold, although construction will continue in another area where no skeletal remains have been found.

January 15, 2011|By Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times

Officials have halted some excavation on the site of a planned Mexican American cultural center after complaints about the removal of skeletal remains that have been unearthed there.

Miguel Angel Corzo, the chief executive of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, released a statement on Friday saying "We believe it is in the best interest of both La Plaza and the larger community to put this section of our project on hold."

Fragile bones from dozens of bodies have been found on the site since October, buried beneath the surface in an area planned as an outdoor space and garden. Construction on the rest of the half-acre site where no remains have been found will continue, Corzo said.

The site is just south of the historic La Placita church in downtown Los Angeles, in the location of the city's first cemetery. That Catholic cemetery was officially closed in 1844, and Los Angeles Archdiocese officials say their records indicated that the bodies were removed at that time to another unspecified location.

"We're glad that they see there is sufficient reason to stop the project and make an assessment and let us appoint a most likely descendant to work with them in treating and disposing of the remains with dignity and respect," said Dave Singleton of the Native American Heritage Commission.

Remains of Native American, Mexican and Spanish settlers are among those believed to have been discovered on the site.

"That's our Williamsburg," said Rose Ramirez, a professional researcher from Temecula who believes that some of her ancestors from Mexico were buried there.

Native American groups, archaeologists and archdiocese officials expressed concern that the excavation was proceeding too quickly and without the involvement of descendants of the dead. Corzo has maintained that the work was painstaking and respectful.

carla.hall@latimes.com

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