Effort Under Way to Make Cemetery Historic Landmark
By Herb Whitney, The Arizona Republic -- July 27, 1998
Glendale/Peoria Community Section, Page 1
Some descendants of Russian pioneer families who settled in Glendale during the city's infancy want guarantees that their heritage won't one day be dug up and destroyed by developers.
''Some of the elders think if we just leave everything alone, everything will be fine,'' Bill John Tolmachoff said. ''But I want to make sure the cemetery is preserved.''
Tolmachoff's ancestors came from California in 1911 to settle and farm land near what is now 75th and Maryland avenues. The cemetery is on 75th Avenue, across from Independence High School.
Tolmachoff's father, grandfather and great-grandfather are buried there, but no one knows the total number of graves because of the ravages of time.
The early graves were marked with wooden stakes, most of which have either rotted away or been destroyed by fire or vandals. Today, the modest 2-acre [1-acre] cemetery contains about 50 granite markers and several dozen wooden stakes, some dating back to 1915. It is fenced and locked to keep intruders out.
Tolmachoff is president of the Church of the Spiritual Molokans, a 15-family congregation that owns and cares for the cemetery.
The Molokans, which means ''milk drinkers'' in Russian, were dissidents who broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church. About 150 Molokan families came to Glendale 87 years ago to grow sugar beets and work in dairies [to farm].
The Russian-Americans were [NOT] influenced by the Quakers, living modest rural lives. The men wore long beards and the women ankle-length dresses.
At Tolmachoff's urging, the Glendale Historic Preservation Commission has begun an evaluation of the cemetery as a possible historic landmark.
The process will include a public hearing in the neighborhood this fall and will likely be completed in six to nine months, according to Tom Lemon, a senior planner with the city.
''Bill John has requested that the cemetery be listed on the Glendale Historic Property Register,'' Lemon said. ''Being on the list would provide a level of local recognition and also a tool for preservation.''
Not all descendants are happy about the city's involvement, however. Some are worried about losing control of the cemetery if the City Council decides to grant it preservation status, even though such an action would apparently protect it from development, nothing more.
''The families don't want city or state control,'' said Bill Jack Tolmachoff, Bill John's cousin. ''Some of them don't really want publicity about this. They want the whole matter left alone.''
Control would remain
I don't mean to jump into a family squabble, but I applaud any effort to safeguard the past. The West Valley is fast becoming wall-to-wall houses, suffering from a bad case of a growth-at-all-costs mentality.
Besides, the chairman of the city's Historic Preservation Commission, John Akers, assures me that the cemetery would remain in the hands of the families if preservation goes through.
''A preservation overlay zone would not affect ownership or the descendants' ability to use the land as they want to,'' Akers said.
The families' mistrust of the city stems, in part, from what happened a decade ago, when Glendale officials tried to extend Maryland Avenue westward to connect with 75th Avenue.
If the plan had been adopted, it could have disrupted the southern edge of the cemetery.
''Some people thought the city was insensitive,'' Akers said. ''There was talk about the possibility of some burial sites existing where the road was planned.
''The overlay zone would protect the cemetery and make the city sensitive to its historical significance.''
Graphic: Color photo by John L. White/The Arizona Republic
Descendents of the Russian immigrants buried in a small Glendale cemetery are debating the best way to ensure its preservation. The Glendale Historic Preservation Commission is considering historic landmark status for the property.