San Fernando Pioneer Memorial Cemetery History
The San Fernando Pioneer Memorial Cemetery is the second oldest cemetery in the San Fernando Valley (second to the San Fernando Mission cemetery), and the area’s first non-sectarian burial ground. It was established as Morningside Cemetery in 1874, when Senator Charles Maclay, who owned a major portion of the northeast Valley, set aside 40 acres of land in the legal filing that established the San Fernando Township.
In the late 1800s, real estate was booming due to the arrival of the railroad and eventually all but 10 acres of the cemetery’s original 40 were sold. Subsequently, burial plots were put up for sale by the newly-formed San Fernando Cemetery Association, and the first burials were recorded in 1889. In 1911, the City of San Fernando voted to reduce its city limits to two square miles, which left the cemetery (and the San Fernando Mission) outside the city’s borders. In 1923, the San Fernando Cemetery Association was dissolved and more land was sold off. In 1927, mortician Will G. Noble purchased the remaining 3.8 acres. Noble operated the cemetery until his death in 1932, and the family continued the business until 1939, the year of the last official burial. The cemetery was neglected for the next 19 years and heavily vandalized.
The widow of Will Noble deeded the cemetery over to the Native Daughters of the Golden West in 1959. The Native Daughters tried to restore the cemetery and give it to the City of Los Angeles. They even renamed it San Fernando Pioneer Memorial Cemetery. Because the cemetery was less than 10 acres, the City refused its care. So did the County and the State. As a result, Pioneer Cemetery has been preserved through the efforts of volunteers since 1958.
In 2002, the Native Daughters of the Golden West gave the cemetery to the San Fernando Valley Historical Society in hopes they could preserve and protect it. With the deed came an undocumented list of 600 names of individuals presumed to be buried at Pioneer Cemetery between 1889 and 1939. Among the listed buried were members of pioneer families who settled in the area, including prominent citizens, and five Civil War veterans. Due to vandalism and time, only 13 tombstones remain, accounting for about 24 people. In 2010, the San Fernando Valley Historical Society commissioned a ground-penetrating radar survey to find the lost graves of Pioneer Cemetery. A confirmed report of 214 gravesites was returned, leaving a big mystery as to who on the inherited list is really buried at the cemetery. In 2012, volunteer efforts began to research each name to try to solve the mystery.