Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dodger Stadium's Chavez Ravine - Once a Jewish Cemetery

Would you believe it if I told you that Dodger Stadium's Chavez Ravine was once a Jewish cemetery?

Back in 1855 the local Jewish community started the process of obtaining land to establish the cemetery and it is located near the corner of Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive adjacent to the stadium. The cemetery was eventually moved in the early 1900's to Home of Peace Memorial Park in Whittier. The original cemetery site was designated as California State Historical Landmark 822 in 1968.

Read about the history of this location, taken from the Western States Jewish History website


Volume #1, Issue #3, April, 1969
by Thomas Cohen

CALIFORNIA STATE HISTORICAL LANDMARK NUMBER 822, was dedicated amid colorful ceremonies on the morning of September 29, 1968, in the Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles. This first Jewish community site was formerly the sacred burial grounds established by the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles in 1855. The dedication was the culmination of research begun by Dr. Norton Stern in the fall of 1966, who was soon joined in this task by the writer of these lines. This joint research, by Stern and Cohen, was partially motivated by the fact that although the existence of this old cemetery was well-known, its exact location was not. An accurate and documented location was needed to proceed.

None of the known reference sources on Los Angeles Jewish history indicated the precise location of the cemetery other than that of the corner of Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive. This corner, a mile from the city hall, is just south of the Dodger Stadium in the Chavez Ravine. Subsequently it was realized that the land previously occupied by the ceme­tery is now being used by the Naval Reserve Armory.

To relocate the site of this first Jewish community prop­erty required a study of the history of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles and a title-search through various offi­cial city and county archives. This was undertaken.

On July 2, 1854, a group of Jewish men met in Los Angeles to organize a benevolent society. The contemporary newspaper account states that:
The Israelites of this city formed themselves into a so­ciety under the name of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. At a meeting held on the 2d inst. the following gentlemen were elected officers of the Society: S. K. Labatt, president; Chas. Shachno, vice-president; Jacob Elias, secretary and treasurer; S. Lazard and H. Goldberg, trustees.

This organization was the first such group in Los An­geles and marked the beginning of community effort and cooperation. Our present vast and complex Jewish community structure of greater Los Angeles stemmed from this small beginning one hundred and fifteen years ago.
Solomon N. Carvalho accompanied Colonel John C. Fre­mont on his cross-country expedition of 1853, as an artist. Upon his arrival in June, 1854, he helped in the organization of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. In recognition of this, the following was adopted:

Resolved, unanimously, that the thanks of this meeting be tendered to Mr. S. N. Carvalho for his valuable services in organizing this society, and that he be elected an honor­ary member; also that these proceedings be published in the Occident.

Carvalho had opened a studio on the second floor of the building in which the Labatt brothers, Samuel and Joseph, operated their store. Thus it was only natural that the Labatt brothers, one of whom was elected the first president, brought Carvalho to the initial meeting of the society.
The organization's purpose is stated in the preamble to its Constitution and By-Laws:
Whereas: the Israelites of this city, being desirous of procuring a piece of ground suitable for the purpose of a burying ground for the deceased of their own faith, and also to appropriate a portion of their time and means to the holy cause of benevolence unite themselves for these purposes, under the name and style of "The Hebrew Benevolent Socity" of Los Angeles.

On July 6, 1854, the society incorporated, ". . . for the purpose, among others, of owning and holding certain real estate to be devoted to burial purposes for deceased members of the Jewish faith." 6 The very next day, at the City Coun­cil session, the minutes record the fact that the Mayor said that the Council might designate a ". . . piece of public land for a graveyard for those belonging to the Hebrew Church." The Council indicated that this matter should come up prop­erly by petition with an accompanying map. Jacob Elias, secretary and treasurer of the society, engaged Mr. George Hansen, a surveyor, to make a map of survey of a plot of land suitable for a cemetery. The survey was made on July 12, 1854. At the July 14 City Council session, the society sub­mitted a petition asking for land for a burial ground.

Later a request was forwarded to his Honor the Mayor and the City Council:
Gentlemen: A petition was handed to your honorable body . . . requesting the donation of pi(e)ce of ground to be used as a burial ground and other benevolent purposes, for the benefit of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of this place. Desiring to know your intention with regard to it, we beg leave to call your attention to the same. By order of the Board of Trustees, Los Angeles, September 20, 1854. Jacob Elias, Secty.

The city approved the request and title was ordered made out on September 22, 1854. Title was granted to the Hebrew Benevolent Society on April 9, 1855:
Between the corporation known as the "Mayor, Recorder and Common Council of the City of Los Angeles" . . . and .. . of the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles .. . in consideration of the sum of one dollar... do grant, convey and quit claim ...that certain tract of land. .. North 84 degrees West two hundred yards thrence North 42 degrees East seventy-five yards, thence South 48 degrees East two hundred yards, thence South 42 degrees West seventy-five yards10... as a burying ground for the Israelites forever.

The recordation took place on April 17, 1855.



Anonymous said...

The exact location is currently a paved lot directly east of the L.A. Fire Dept which is located at 1700 Stadium Way. The former cemetery is just about the size of that tiny lot, which runs along the south side of Lilac Terrace (south of a small hill below the stadium parking lot). This cemetery can be seen clearly marked on an 1897 city directory map of Los Angeles.

On the same map, 2-3 times the size of the Jewish cemetery, is marked "Cavalry cemetery" in what is now the Hill St. entrance to the 110 on the west, and Cathedral High School on the east.

Below what is now the stadium and surrounding parking lot was Chavez Ravine -- I don't know of any strict definition of the Chavez Ravine border -- but the 1987 map shows a neighborhood in what is now the south parking lot, and a 1923 map shows a much larger neighborhood with grid streets covering the area of what is now the north parking lot up to Academy Way.

Tom T. said...

In 1958 a distant relative of mine, Charles G. Schweitzer, wrote of his youth, 1880's - 1890's, near Chavez Ravine, then called Brick Yard Valley. Regarding the Jewish Cemetery,he commented:
"... a short distance north of our house was a small reservoir that supplied our place with irrigating water and was also the source of the brook. There was a Jewish Cemetery that was enclosed a short distance north and east of the spring. We knew the German who was caretaker. His name was Willenburg. He and a helper dug the graves, and in general, took care of the Cemetery. We children would watch with much interest the black hearse, pulled by black horses, with black plumes on their heads ... (and we) ... would follow after the last carriage and come as near as we thought was proper to watch the proceedings. When there was a great deal of wailing and crying, we concluded it was a fine funeral ..." .

- Tom Thaxter