By HUGO MARTIN
TIMES STAFF WRITER
Photos by AL SEIB / Los Angeles Times
Women in traditional dresses wander through the Russian Molokan Cemetery after attending the funeral of an elderly church member.
Danny Kanavalov and son Josh, of Bakersfield, walk through the graves at the Russian Molokan Cemetery in the City of Commerce.
EIGHTY-FOUR-YEAR-OLD Shasha Tolmachoff lives in Glendale, Ariz., but plans that when she dies, she will be buried in the City of Commerce, in the same dusty parcel where generations of Russian Molokans including her parents and in-laws have been laid to rest.
“It’s very comforting to be with them,” said the retired homemaker as she walked gingerly around the tightly packed tombstones at the Russian Molokan Cemetery on Slauson Avenue after attending the funeral of an elderly church member.
Tolmachoff is a member of a little-known Christian sect that broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1600s. About 60% of America’s church-going Molokans–about 3,000 people–live in Los Angeles. [Descendants of Molokans in LA County number over 20,000]. Molokan Since 1941, most of them have been burying their ancestors at the Slauson cemetery, sandwiched between a paper factory and a warehouse.
The 14-acre graveyard has about 2,500 graves and space for thousands more, free to dues-paying church members. Two smaller Molokan cemeteries in East Los Angeles are too small or too full to absorb many more graves.
In recent years, as commercial development has surrounded the Slauson cemetery and vacant land in Commerce has become scarce, banks and real estate firms have clamored to buy and develop the cemetery or its vacant 10 acres for nearly a half-million dollars an acre.
But the six Molokan churches that own the property have rejected all offers outright.
“If our people have put our blood, sweat and tears into this land, why move?” said Alex Goosseff”
Yesterday I posted a description of the Molokan religion. I was raised in this community. My grandparents and other relatives are buried at this cemetery. In high school I chose to leave this religion because of some of their beliefs. The outfits you see on these ladies are what is worn by married women to church services, weddings, and funerals. Molokans wear pastels or white garments for their gatherings. No black or bright colors.