One of the oldest and most historic cemeteries in Houston fell from grace and into a “back alley” of dirty dealing for years before it was finally redeemed.
Founded in 1895, this once beautiful cemetery was the final resting place for some of Houston’s middle-class whites living in the Heights area. Over the years, this has changed and anyone willing to buy a plot is buried there.
The dead offer no explanation for the condition of their final resting place and the caretakers during these hard years offered only the traditional con, “Nothing is wrong, everything is right”, yet even back in 2003 the horror stories were making their way into the news.
The Houston Press told the story of family members not being able to find their parent’s graves because someone else was buried in the plot, as indicated by family members finding their loved-ones headstones tossed aside and another person’s headstone in its place. (see Dead-Wrong, April 10, 2003)
The gentleman running the cemetery from November 2000 until at least the time of the article in April 2003, had a closed-door policy concerning burial information and was even quoted in the article as saying:
“The only information that I am going to give is to the families,” he says. “I’m here to help the families.”
The cemetery’s records are not available to the Houston Press, he says. “It’s not show-and-tell,” he says. “I’m not trying to sound sad or morbid, but there’s no buried treasure.”
Things were so bad by 2003 that the Funeral Service Commission had a 43 page report on the dealings of the management like reselling plots, stacking caskets on top of other caskets, and not keeping accurate records.
Reading the article “Dead Wrong” by the Houston Press, it is just one horror story after another for 6 pages!
Another website, “Cemeteries and History of Harris Co., Texas” by George E. Wolf, has some interesting information about the Hollywood Cemetery. Here you can find out a little information on a several of the residents in the cemetery, even a few who are semi-famous.
My own experience with the staff prompted my starting the review service. This cemetery and two others in Houston convinced me that someone needed to warn others about the rudeness they would suffer if they visited these cemeteries, the lack of customer service and in the case of Hollywood, the fees that were charged to do look-ups of grave site locations.
This is a large cemetery and not one you would want to walk around to find a headstone without some directions.
I rated this cemetery “F” and the rating stood for over a year.
In January 2009, the cemetery was fore-closured on. What should have been a blow to the cemetery was actually a blessing in disguise. Out with the old and in with a new attitude and a new level of customer service.
The new staff are sincere, caring, believe in great customer service, and willing to go the extra mile. No more putting you off if you need a look up. No more fees for looking up a grave-site. No more sour attitude once they see you are not there to buy a plot.
Cheryl Danford, the new General Manager, Director of Family Services and Executive Vice President is enthusiastic about the progress being made and the changes which are coming. She has personally reclaimed over 100 grave-sites (identified undocumented burials), weed-eated and helped to upright fallen headstones. She is very much a hands-on manager.
This is a monumental undertaking as there are nearly 34,000 burials and many years of neglect. We have had volunteers and new office staff working hard to bring old records up to the standard set by the Department of Banking. We have also many projects currently in the works such as having all the Historical Records digitized. We are manually typing in and backing up each and every record in the cemetery office. We have purchased cemetery programs that will eventually allow anyone with a computer access to our records this will be limited of course not to include specifics such as social security numbers. We have an open door policy and will be glad to help research family burial records, take photos or make copies where possible with no charge to the public. We have also hired a graphics company to get a website up and running and it will be available very soon. There are many other projects such as drainage and roads that we are currently working on and many that have been completed such as new block retaining walls, much needed repairs to the office and mausoleum. — Cheryl Danford
I visited the cemetery a few weeks ago and asked for a lookup of a grave-site, which was the oldest headstone photo request on Find A Grave, an online memorial site. The staff was friendly, prompt and provided the location with a smile.
Not being able to find the location, I went back to the office and Cheryl came out to the section to show me exactly where the grave-site was located, however we discovered there was not a marker.
It was a pleasure to visit the cemetery, to see the change in customer service and to change their rating to an “A+”.
To contact Cheryl or another staff-person for information:
Historic Hollywood Cemetery
3506 N. Main
Houston, Texas 77009
fax: (713) 227-5933