Cemetery restoration 80% done

Herald Salinas Bureau

Article Last Updated: 02/19/2008 01:30:02 AM PST

Dotted with markers bearing famous pioneer names, the Old Calvary Cemetery stands sentry at the northwest entrance to Salinas.

It is surrounded by the rich fields of the verdant Salinas Valley that its pioneering inhabitants held so dear.

For nearly 140 years, the Catholic cemetery that pre-dated the adjacent city by four years has held the remains of people with names like Graves, Boronda, Breschini, Geil, Rianda, McFadden, Ferrini, Soberanes and many more. They are all tucked away in a small, nearly forgotten tribute to the Valley's history.

Left to molder since its closure in 1960, the cemetery had fallen victim to weeds, garbage, vandalism and vagrants.

That is, until a band of folks dubbed the Old Calvary Cemetery Restoration Committee took matters into their own hands five years ago. The group raised money through the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey's Cemetery Administration for the restoration effort.

Since taking over the project, the committee has raised about $100,000 for a much-needed cleanup. It has added new ornamental fencing, security lighting, a new main gate, a perimeter fence and a paint job for the 15-foot white cross in the midst of the gravestones.

The committee also installed a historical marker for the cemetery's founder, George Graves, and one for Fran McFadden, who donated $2,500 for the plaque before her own death in September. A list of contributors to the restoration project is affixed on the fence at the cemetery's main entrance.

The committee's founder, Salinas native John Futini, said the effort to restore the cemetery is simply the right thing to do. Besides, the 87-year-old Futini, who moved away from Salinas in the 1940s and lives in Napa, has a personal stake in the cemetery's condition. His parents, Joseph and Pierina, rest in Old Calvary.

"You can't just forget those who have gone before," Futini said. Letting the cemetery crumble into disrepair is "a sacrilege. It's disrespectful. Especially that cemetery, which contains so many pioneers who made the Salinas Valley what it is."

There is work and fundraising still to be done, Futini said, with another $20,000 needed for monument and grave site renovations.

Wayne Gularte, a member of the restoration committee who also has family buried at the cemetery, said the work is about "80 percent" finished and the rest will take at least two more years.

Meanwhile, the Monterey County Historical Society is backing an attempt to secure a historical landmark designation for the cemetery, a lengthy and complex process, said President Mona Gudgel.

Gudgel said the society has already received permission from the Roman Catholic Diocese, which owns the cemetery, and has done most of the research required as part of the historical designation effort.

Such a designation would preserve the cemetery for generations to come and ensure that it couldn't displaced, Gudgel said.

"It is a critical part of our history," Gudgel said, noting that some of the grave markers themselves could be historic. Funerary art in the cemetery ranges from early hard-carved styles to later manufactured models.

Some of the cemetery's best-known inhabitants include the Boronda and Soberanes families, whose names have become familiar with the area. Seven members of each family are interred on the grounds, said the diocese Web site.

Graves, the Kentucky-born rancher who moved to California during the height of the Gold Rush in 1849 and to Salinas in 1855, founded the cemetery in 1870 by deeding the land where it sits. He's buried under a large monument just east of the towering white cross that marks the burial ground.

Spanish native Don Pedro Zabala, a landowner who arrived in Monterey County in 1849 and ended up marrying a daughter of William Petty Hartnell, is interred in an imposing crypt. Several members of the Breschini family also rest in a large crypt at the cemetery.

Other notable denizens include William Casey, an early county supervisor and rancher; Samuel Franklin Geil, an early district attorney who has a street in Salinas named for him; and Charles McFadden, who arrived in the 1950s and worked in farming and dairy operations in what was known as the Blanco district.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 753-6753 or

Cemetery booklet More about the Old Calvary Cemetery and its inhabitants is in "History of Pioneer Interments, Calvary Catholic Cemetery," by the Monterey County Historical Society and Anita Mason. The booklet is available at the Historical Society's Boronda Adobe History Center in Salinas. To contribute to the restoration project, call Greg Knowles at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey's Cemetery Administration at 373-4345.