Woodlawn Memorial Park in Compton is the final resting place for more than 900 military veterans, including those who died in the Civil War. It is also filled with a wealth of local history since it opened in 1871.  

What You Need To Know

  • A Compton woman is trying to take ownership of the Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, currently in foreclosure

  • It's one of the oldest cemeteries in LA County and houses some of Compton's founders and more than 900 military veterans

  • The cemetery has been in disrepair after being abandoned and went into foreclosure in 2013, making it difficult for family and friends to visit loved ones

  • The cemetery is holding its first Memorial Day Ceremony in 20 years on May 31 at 10 a.m.

The first person to be interred at Woodlawn in 1871 was the son of Compton’s founder, Abigail Stockwell, according to Celestina Bishop – who is the cemetery’s caretaker. The cemetery is also one of the oldest in Los Angeles County.

It even houses a prominent man in American history – Francis Townsend, a doctor in Long Beach who helped establish social security.

"Compton, LA, Long Beach, this was the cemetery to go to," Bishop said.

For Bishop, the most important of those laid to rest at Woodlawn Memorial Park are her mother and three sisters. She was just a toddler when they were bludgeoned to death in 1977. Bishop was found alive a couple days later.

“My memory of my family has been the night of their murder and Woodlawn Cemetery," she said.

That is why she is doing everything she can to rejuvenate the place she calls home.

"I’m here more than I am at my residence," Bishop said.

The cemetery went into foreclosure in 2013, and has been locked for a number of years, according to Bishop. While visitors can sometimes get lucky and find it open, most often family and friends are unable to visit their loved ones.

"It was a heartache and a heartbreak at the same time," she said.

Last Mother’s Day, Bishop hopped the fence and saw a tree covering her family’s headstones.  

"That fueled a disappointment and an anger inside, just looking over the grounds and no headstone was recognizable," she said.

Since then, she and her husband have poured more than $250,000 into repairing and maintaining the property. They operate it under the name Woodlawn Celestial Gardens and have started the non-profit One Section at a Time to raise money.

"We just want to make sure that we have the gates open for the families and we share the history that dwells underneath," Bishop said.

LA County Assessor Jeff Prang has a love for genealogy and history. When he heard about Bishop’s efforts, he offered to help her figure out how she can take ownership of it. Prang said there is no money for anyone else to make on a full cemetery.

"Rules when it comes to foreclosure are complicated," he said. "That’s one of the things I’m trying to work on right now is trying to get a better understanding of what all the steps are to help guide Celestina and One Section at a Time.

"It would be very hurtful if someone or an entity was to come over here and say, 'Hey you know what, good job and now we’ve got it going forward,'" Bishop said.

One of the projects underway is fixing and restoring a flagpole. 

"The plate’s been pried up off the concrete base," said Glen Roosevelt with the group Sons of Spanish American War Veterans.

He said the flagpole was dedicated to the Spanish American War veterans almost 80 years ago.

Roosevelt served as a Marine in Vietnam.

"One day, we’re going to be in the same position and we want people to honor our service," he said.

For Bishop, bringing this cemetery back to life is her way of serving the community and those who have fought to protect it.

A GoFundMe to help save Woodlawn Memorial Park can be found here.

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