San Fernando Pioneer Memorial Cemetery Timeline
1874 – Plot of San Fernando Township filed at Los Angeles Hall of Records by Senator Charles Maclay. Area included in the filing was from the surrounding mountains to approximately Roscoe and Osborne wash. The land is set on a gentle slope north of town. Forty (40) acres were set aside for the cemetery.
1894 – The area was growing rapidly. Maclay interests sold hillside lots, cutting cemetery to 10 acres.
1905 – San Fernando businessmen formed the San Fernando Cemetery Association, and sold lots in the cemetery.
1911 – The San Fernando Council and voters formed the City of San Fernando, refusing the 1874 plot plan and limiting San Fernando city limits to 2 miles in area. This cut off the cemetery and also the San Fernando Mission from within the city limits of San Fernando.
1923 – The San Fernando Cemetery Association was dissolved.
1927 – The dissolved Association sold 3.8 acres of the cemetery to mortician Will G. Noble. The State of California took .9 acres to widen Foothill Boulevard.
1932 – Will Noble died and his family operated the cemetery for a time.
1939 – New cemetery laws in California added more stringent regulations and August 25 was the last official burial at the cemetery. It remained dormant and uncared for an subject to frequent vandalism.
1958 – Native Daughters of the Golden West, San Fernando Mission Parlor No. 280, began a drive to restore the cemetery. Carolyn Riggs became chairman and the start of a long 31 year association with the cemetery.
1959 – On June 6, title to the cemetery was granted by Nellie S. Noble, widow of Will Noble, to the Native Daughters of the Golden West, San Fernando Mission Parlor No. 280. On December 6, Publication was filed, declaring the cemetery closed to burials and abandoned.
1961 – On April 30, the San Fernando Pioneer Memorial Cemetery became State Historical Landmark No. 753. Land had been cleared, water piping installed, a flag pole erected, and trees planted.
1961-1970 – Work parties cleared, planted, and watered the cemetery weekly, but it was torn up by vandals. Horses were ridden over the area, and water pipes were pulled up. Headstones were stolen, knocked down, and broken.
1971 – The Sylmar Earthquake hit the area severely. The monument sign was toppled. The flag pole was bent into a ¾ circle. The monument was replaced, and the cemetery cleared again, but water pipes were still stolen.
1979 – In order to construct condominiums on 5.3 acres of property surrounding the fenceless cemetery, the builder had to agree to construct an ornamental stone wall with iron bars around the cemetery property.
1980 – Native Daughters of the Golden West, San Fernando Mission Parlor No. 280 agrees to turn management of the care of the cemetery to the Sylmar Civic Association. Native Daughter Edith Reber, living in Sylmar, a member of both organizations, proceeded with beautification plans.
1982 – Less vandalism was recorded, but the fence was knocked down again. Dirt from a nearby building excavation was dumped in the cemetery.
1986-1988 – San Fernando Cemetery becomes a project for Sierra-Cahuenga District No. 15 (of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs). The San Fernando Women’s Club adopts it as a Civic Improvement Project. Donations and grants begin to arrive at the Sylmar Chamber of Commerce. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power installs a meter of sufficient size to handle irrigation for the 3.8 acres. Water piping and valves were installed. Electricity for lighting, and a new flag pole was donated. Flags continued to be cut down and stolen.
1988 to 1989 – The San Fernando Women’s Club continued their Civic Improvement Project. More than 1,550 hours of personal time were given by Edith Reber for writing letters, weeding, attending meetings, clearing up dumped refuse, and watering the more than 50 trees growing in the cemetery. Promised for the future, a memorial wall with the names of all those who are buried in the cemetery. A rest area and cement walkways were installed, with each load of cement costing $500. Mission College was to assist.
1990-91 – The City of Los Angeles proposed to install sidewalks along Foothill Boulevard. The Native Daughters granted space outside the fence to offset the cost of improvement.
2002 – Native Daughters of the Golden West, San Fernando Mission Parlor No. 280 deeds over the cemetery property to the San Fernando Valley Historical Society. Recorded by the Los Angeles County Recorder’s Office on October 1, 2002 at 1:41 p.m.
2003 – Edith Reber, 92, is honored for her preservation efforts to save Pioneer Cemetery at Memorial Day ceremonies held at the cemetery, and on June 26 by the Conference of California Historical Societies. First meeting of the Pioneer Cemetery Committee of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society is held June 23 to devise improvement plans.
2004 – San Fernando Valley Historical Society members Wally Kendig and Joyce Gaynor become co-chairs of the Pioneer Cemetery Committee. A cement walkway is installed across the dirt entry area from the corner of Foothill and Bledsoe, connecting the sidewalk to the cemetery’s front gate and allowing wheelchair access. Flowers are planted along the pathway and red, white and blue ribbons wrapped around tall stakes keep equestrians off the dirt for the Memorial Day observance.
2005 – San Fernando Valley Historical Society member Jacky Walker joins Joyce Gaynor as co-chair of the Pioneer Cemetery Committee. The cemetery opens to the public once a month for the first time in 66 years, conducts tours, and establishes the Adopt-A-Plot program to encourage visitors to help maintain gravesites. As part of plans to create a more dignified entrance for the cemetery, a wrought iron fence was installed around the dirt area.
2006 – Several events are conducted at the cemetery, including a Big Sunday clean-up (now the Mayor’s Day of Service) and the first Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) observance for members of family buried at the cemetery. Preparations for constructing the new front entrance begin and a new sign is installed.
2007 – The cemetery’s new Memorial Brick entrance is installed and dedicated September 2007 at the corner of Foothill & Bledsoe to commemorate those believed to be buried at the cemetery. Funding was partially from a $10,000 matching funds Beautification Grant from the City of Los Angeles. A Sylmar Chamber mixer/costume party is held around Halloween, with the debut of the Sylmar-tini.
2008-2009 – Beautification of the cemetery continues with construction of brick planters underneath the cemetery sign and around the landmark. Memorial brick sales continue as an ongoing fundraising project. Memorial Day attendance increases to 200.
2010 – Geophysicist Brian Damiata begins a ground penetrating radar survey to locate the lost gravesites of Pioneer Cemetery. Cost of the survey is $20,000 and fundraising efforts include an outdoor theatrical experience called “Voices of Pioneer Cemetery: Flashlight Ghost Tour,” with students from the Mission College Drama Club. The survey was also partially funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
2011 – Vandals steal the large irrigation valve that was installed in the 1980s by the City (presumably for scrap metal), thus impeding watering of the grounds. A temporary bib is installed to allow tree watering. The local Mormon Helping Hands group volunteers to help spruce up the cemetery. More than 400 attend Memorial Day to honor America’s war dead. Among those honored were local soldier U.S. Marine Cpl. Julio Vargas from Sylmar, who perished in Afghanistan in July, 2010. Bricks honoring him and the All Veteran’s Burial Squad are installed in the entrance. Civil War reenactors performed the roles of the cemetery’s five Civil War veterans. Results of the ground penetrating radar survey are announced — 214 gravesites.
2012 – Research efforts by volunteers commence to determine who is actually buried at Pioneer Cemetery. Bougainvillea are planted along the Bledsoe fence, and several trees are donated and planted by students of Sylmar High School. A car driven by an uninsured motorist smashes into the cemetery’s front fence, causing $300 in damages. The Mormon Helping Hands group volunteers again to help spruce up the cemetery for Memorial Day.