One of Long Beach’s most historic properties will live on as public land.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, Aug. 20, to acquire the 112-year-old Sunnyside Cemetery, which was on the brink of closure.
The graveyard’s directors warned earlier this summer they would have to shut down the storied site by the end of August if city officials didn’t take it over.
But that fate has now been averted after months of discussions between the directors and city officials.
“It has been a back-and-forth,” Mayor Robert Garcia said, “but we said from Day One, we would not let the cemetery close or fall into major disrepair, and I’m really glad we’re meeting that commitment.”
Under the agreement, the cemetery will be operated and maintained through Long Beach’s Parks, Recreation and Marine Department — the same department charged with maintaining the Municipal Cemetery next door to Sunnyside.
The property is the final resting place for more than 16,000 people, including Union soldiers, Japanese Americans who suffered internment during World War II, and Long Beach pioneers including C.J. Walker, the first new mayor of the 20th Century and founder of Farmers and Merchants Bank.
Sunnyside has been on the brink of collapse for years, according to its directors. Bad fortune began in 1994, when its owner stole more than half of its $1 million endowment and used the cash to lease a Mercedes, run up bar tabs and pay for alimony.
The property operates off interest from its endowment and has never recovered from the blow.
Its managers since then have done their best to manage Sunnyside’s descent, making tough choices about which of many necessities, like water bills and pest control, to prioritize. But earlier this year, it became clear none of the cemetery’s directors were in well enough health to keep dealing with the stress of upkeep.
Sunnyside representatives have had repeated negotiation sessions over the years with Long Beach, but the two sides were never able to come to an agreement for the city to annex the property — until now.
“Because of what you have done tonight,” Sunnyside board member Mike Miner told the City Council on Tuesday, “we can ensure that the cemetery will go on, and that more funds will be available to do the work that needs to be done.”
City officials still have more work ahead of them in determining Sunnyside’s long-term funding.
A preliminary analysis, according to a staff report, found that the cemetery’s operation would cost “approximately $230,000 per year in ongoing operating liabilities, and approximately $1.0 million to $1.5 million in initial costs for capital improvements to address basic public access and safety issues.”
Other costs, including landscaping and structure improvements, have not been calculated.
But still, Garcia and council members said, Sunnyside’s preservation is of the utmost importance to Long Beach and its legacy.
“It’s an incredibly significant location for history and for the city, as it looks back to its founding,” Garcia said. “Beyond that, there are many residents and families who currently have members of their family buried at that site.
“So to be able to acquire the site and bring it into our Long Beach park system,” he continued, “is really, really special and really, really important.”