LA culture center stops work over found remains

By Jacob Adelman
Los Angeles, California (AP) January 2011

Construction at a Mexican-American cultural center was suspended last week after American Indian groups raised concerns that human remains unearthed were being disturbed.

It was in the best interest of the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes center and the community to halt the project, which is being built on county-owned property, president Miguel Angel Corzo said.

“Moving forward, we will continue to work with all interested parties and proceed with the rest of our construction as planned,” he said. “We believe this discovery and the resulting conversations will engender further education about the rich and complex history of Los Angeles, a history we are committed to exploring here at LA Plaza.”

State Native American Heritage Commission staffer Dave Singleton, who called on officials last week to stop work on the project pending an investigation, said he was relieved.

“We are pleased by reports that the project has stopped finally,” he said.

LA Plaza spokeswoman Katie Dunham said the work stoppage covers a small part of the center’s 30,000-square foot garden area where remains from several dozen bodies have been found since October.

The site, part of the city’s El Pueblo historical area, was the location of a cemetery that had been exhumed in 1848, project officials said.

Corzo has said coroner’s officials told him that the remains found at the site date from that time and that the area was never used for Indian burials.

Indian groups, however, cited records taken from California’s historic mission registers that showed that about two-thirds of the roughly 670 people buried in the graveyard were American Indians.

Desiree Martinez, an archaeologist and member of the Gabrielino/Tongva Indians, said she had been showing center planners documentation that the remains were likely those of Indians for a week and a half. The tribe had a strong presence in the area before the arrival of Europeans.

Although LA Plaza was persuaded to stop work, she remained concerned about the care of the remains that have already been exhumed and the center’s future plans for the area, she said.

“Just because it has stopped, it doesn’t mean that it’s over,” she said. “We have a lot more work to do, and we want to make sure that the ancestors are taken care of properly.”