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Grand View nearing restoration

About 100 people visit the cemetery Sunday ahead of four-month closure.

July 20, 2010|By Melanie Hicken, melanie.hicken@latimes.com
(Tim Berger/News-Press )

GLENDALE — Lenore Devlin traveled more than 60 miles Sunday to visit the grave of a former student at Grand View Memorial Park.

"There are certain students in your life who just touch your heart," the Los Angeles Unified teacher said as she arranged flowers for the grave of Ara Azaryan, who died in 2004. He was 23 at the time, she said.

Devlin was one of close to 100 people on Sunday who visited Grand View Memorial Park, which has had limited public access for years after it fell into a state of disrepair.

Sunday marked one of the roughly biweekly, court-ordered public openings for the cemetery, the only time family members can visit loved ones buried there.

Just a few such days remain before the restoration work begins, cutting off public access for up to four months, officials said.

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Visitors have been frustrated with the poor state of landscaping at the cemetery and limited access.

"I'm very upset," said Glendale resident Lili Asaturyan, whose father and brother are buried at the cemetery. "I want to come every Saturday and Sunday to place flowers."

Devlin and Asaturyan, who regularly take advantage of the public openings, said they were fed up with the state of the cemetery, which is covered in weeds and dead, dry grass.

"It's hard for me to see Ara in this mess," said Devlin, who brought several rakes and helped Azaryan's father clear the overgrowth from around the grave.

Better recordkeeping and a new irrigation system will usher in new grass, officials say. The work, originally slated to begin this month, has been met with delays, but stakeholders say they are working on moving it forward.

"We are still a little ways out," said David Baum, the attorney who represents cemetery operator Moshe Goldsman. "But we are moving as diligently and quickly as possible. Everyone wants to see this done as soon as possible."

Earlier this year, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr approved a $3.8-million settlement in the long-standing class-action lawsuit against the cemetery. The complaint was filed after state investigators in 2005 found the remains of 4,000 people who had not been properly buried or disposed of.

The cemetery was shut down a year later and reopened with a new operator until closing again due to financial struggles.

City officials eventually stepped in and established temporary visits. They also secured a public nuisance abatement order forcing the cemetery's new operators to clean up the property.

On Sunday, volunteers helped visitors find gravestones and gave them an update on the progress of restoration at the park.

"People want to know why it looks like this," said Burbank resident Lisa Burks, who regularly volunteers at the memorial park. "It is purposely not being landscaped because it will be ripped up."

Under the lawsuit's settlement agreement, $500,000 was allocated to a limited restoration of the park, including returning cemetery records to Grand View's main office and an underground irrigation system.

"The hope is, by doing this we will free up some money that can be used for labor to keep the cemetery open more often," said Paul Ayers, the plaintiff attorney in the lawsuit who was tasked with overseeing the restoration work.

Attorneys are also trying to make the cemetery attractive to an outside buyer, who could reopen it as a viable business.

"This cemetery, I believe, can be viable," he said.

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