Modernization of a Well Established Cemetery

Date Published: 
October, 1950
Original Author: 
Mason Letteau
Executive Vice-President Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California
Original Publication: 
1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook

It has been my good fortune the past five years to have had the opportunity of assisting in the almost complete overhauling and modernization of a large and well established cemetery. Inglewood Park was founded in 1905 by a small group of businessmen, including my father, George Letteau, who was president until his death last year. The only surviving member of this group of founders is our present president, Charles B. Hopper, who for fifty years has been acclaimed as one of the outstanding real estate men and developers in the Southern Cali¬fornia area. My experience working with Mr. Hopper during recent months in modernizing and improving Inglewood Park Cemetery has been the most valuable training of my life.

Inglewood Park comprises three hundred acres and now is very centrally located, surrounded with heavy population, and bounded by major highway arteries; yet in 1905 it was considered incredibly far out in the country, with a horse-drawn street car being its only saving feature. In those days the street car company built a special flat car that was used to transport the casket, and many times the entire funeral procession would proceed from the funeral parlor to the cemetery by street car. During the first year we had thirty-two interments, but forty-five years has wrought a great change and now we handle between five and six thousand interments each year. On certain days we have had as many as sixty-five interments in the park. To date there have been in the neigh¬borhood of one hundred forty-five thousand interments, and our endowment care trust fund is now slightly over two million four hundred thousand dollars. We wish that the fund was much larger and hope in a few years there will be many mote millions of dollars in it, but even so it has increased quite a bit during the last forty-five years.

For the first twenty-five years of its growth, Inglewood Park underwent many changes and was constantly being developed and improved. In 1910 the first community mausoleum in the state of California was constructed there. This building, comprising twenty-five hundred crypts, has, of course, been sold out for many years, and our newer Mausoleum of the Golden West now contains twelve thousand crypts and is planned to eventually comprise at least fifty thousand crypts. I doubt whether I will be alive when we have fifty thousand crypts there, but we have ample room and fully drawn plans for that size.

Nevertheless, despite this early growth and development, there was little done in the way of modernization from 1930 to 1945. The cemetery looked exactly the same throughout this period, only each year all of the buildings were getting older, and our facilities becoming more and more outmoded. Practices were followed and rules enforced, not because they were the best, but just because we had always had them and followed them in the past. It was obvious to all of us that even though the company was prosperous and well regarded this policy of doing almost nothing new would have to be terminated and the ceme¬tery given a thorough overhauling. This job has, in large part, been allotted to me, and it has been a great privilege as well as a fascinating and invaluable experience. We have made mistakes, some of them costly, but we feel proud of what has been accomplished in so short a time. We know there is much more to do, and our Board of Directors is determined to continually push this modern¬ization program until our goal has been accomplished.

During the past few months we have prepared a series of colored slides which illustrate far better than mere words the progress we have made in this program. My assistant, George Thomsen, who has taken most of these pictures that you are going to see, will now project them for you and I will add a few informative comments.

(Showing slides) The first view shows our remodeled entrance, which was one of the first changes we made. We feel it particularly vital to have our main entrance both attractive and easily noticed. Originally, we had a wrought iron sign but eventually it became darkened and very difficult to read. A few years ago two beautiful fountains were donated to the cemetery by the widow of one of the original founders and these were constructed on either side of the entrance. About three years ago we replaced the wrought iron sign with a large electric sign that is easily readable day and night. Recently we have operated our fountains at night as well as in the daytime and have installed colored lights to focus upon the streams of water. Thus we feel we have transformed a dark space along the highway into almost a fairyland scene through the evening hours. During the year we constantly strive to see that our flower beds around our entrance are as beautiful and imposing as possible. It has been a great satisfaction to receive appreciative comments about them from visitors, for we then feel that our goal of creating a favorable first impression is being achieved. These beds can be easily viewed by all traffic passing by, even though many of the cars may not enter the cemetery, and therefore we feel they act as a very helpful advertisement. Each Christmas we place a large decorated and lighted Christmas tree in the very center of our entrance and this has created so much public interest that many people in the neighborhood have come especially to see it and the local papers have often contained pictures of it.

Until this March we operated a downtown business office. The next series of pictures will show how, for a very moderate cost, we have transformed our superintendent's former office and home in the park into a complete and modern administration building. This step of centralizing all departments under one building within the cemetery grounds has, without a doubt, been one of the most beneficial that we have taken. It has reduced our costs and enabled us to serve both the general public and the funeral directors utilizing Inglewood Park in a more efficient and satisfactory manner. In our new administration building we have constructed two modern consultation rooms which we feel help us in our sales very, very much. These rooms are large enough so that an entire family of eight or ten can comfortably be seated in them. We have furnished them in the manner of a sitting room or lounge rather than an office and have tried with our furniture and decorations to make them as pleasant and relaxing for the families using them as possible. They are bright arid cheerful and con¬stantly have fresh flowers on the tables. There is nothing in either room in the way of urns, miniature vaults, or anything that would tend to depress the families while they are sitting in them. Our only mistake was in not constructing more and I am sure that we will have to remedy this in the near future.

At the present time we are in the process of remodeling Grace Chapel, which was originally constructed in 1918. This chapel seats up to two hundred and fifty people and is a replica of an old and well known building in England. Unfortunately, there are many steps leading up to the main floor of the chapel, which has constantly provided difficulties for older people and made it extremely, unpleasant to bring in large and heavy caskets. At the present time we are completely remodeling Grace Chapel and are considering lowering the main floor to ground level. We are adding much needed features, such as a minister's room and a flower receiving room. Ultimately we hope to have Grace Chapel contain all modern features and improvements but still look exactly the same from the outside, for its exterior appearance has come to be regarded with much sentiment and attachment by our lot owners.

A little over a year ago we constructed a new and much smaller chapel which we have designated as the Chapel of the Chimes. One of the features we have found to be most appreciated in it is a family garden where the immediate members of the family may gather and visit together before and after the service in privacy and seclusion. We have no curtains or drapes in the Chapel of the Chimes and allow bright sunlight to come in at all times. The fact that it is bright and cheerful and decorated in beautiful pastel shades of green and pink has been very well received by those using it. We have endeavored in every way possible to avoid having anything dark or gloomy in the entire building.

The following series of slides illustrate our new Crematorium, which we believe to be the finest that has ever been constructed. The retort room itself has green terrazzo floors and aluminum painted concrete walls. We try to keep this room at all times as clean and immaculate as an engine room in a battleship or an operating room in a hospital. The general public may visit the retort room at any time, and every day many visitors pass through it even while all four retorts are operating. We feel that we are helping to sell cremation by allowing the general public to thoroughly understand what cremation is all about and to see how clean and sanitary the entire process is in our Crematorium. Some people like it and some do not, but in any event we feel that we have taken all of the mystery and unpleasantness out of it. One interesting feature about our retorts is that they have two methods of operation-natural gas or fuel oil. We felt that there might be times during a war or in a severe winter when natural gas would not be available and therefore we constructed a stand-by method of operation. Normally, we use natural gas, even though it is slightly more expensive, because of the fact that it is much cleaner. However, in the matter of a few seconds, any retort can be converted to fuel oil.

The only views which I am going to show of our Mausoleum of the Golden West are of a new feature which I feel is one of our greatest improvements. It is a new type of display crypt with a plate glass front, concealed fluorescent lights and modern appearing drapes inside of the plate glass. The crypt itself is painted a pastel shade and carpeted in a contrasting color. Our original display crypts were just like those that are now to be seen in most mausoleums through¬out the country. They were dark and foreboding in appearance and people could reach inside and touch the cold and often unpainted concrete with their hands. We have endeavored to make our new display crypt look just as bright and attractive as possible, and the effect on the public has been truly astonishing. It has not only assisted us in selling crypts in all parts of the building, but, strangely enough, has created a great demand for crypts adjacent to it and directly facing it. People seem to want to own crypts close by because of the fact that it is bright and colorful and lighted at all times.

Our most recent step in modernization has been to construct a completely new corporation yard consisting of a large machine shop, warehouse, paint shop, and a complete concrete vault and sectional box plant outside of the cemetery proper. It is directly across the street from one corner of our park and on some property that could never be zoned for cemetery use. This move has served a dual purpose of giving us several acres of land already dedicated for interments to sell in one of the older and completely sold out sections of the park, and at the same time removed what we have always felt to be a major eyesore.

In recent years we have tried in every way possible to bring color into the cemetery. We feel there is far too much green and we have attempted to add color to it in the way of flower beds, flowering trees and water lilies. One of our most beautiful trees, which is shown in the concluding slides, is the flowering Eucalyptus. They bloom for several months and I wish we had many more of them in the cemetery. They come in several different intense and vivid shades of red and orange.

I want to thank you all very much for your courtesy and attention. It has been a great pleasure for me to come to Milwaukee and have a small part in this fine convention. I appreciate your allowing me to appear on the, program the first time I have attended an NCA meeting, Thank you very much!

From the publication:
“1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook”
NCA 21st Annual Meeting
Hotel Schroeder, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 18, 19, 20 and 21, 1950