In Search of Dr. David Burbank


Debi Mobley stands next to the granite monument erected at Dr. David Burbank’s grave. The three smaller tombstones directly behind her are for the doctor’s wife, Clara, Dr. Burbank, and his 11 year-old daughter, Adie.

By Stan Lynch

With the big celebration for the centennial of Burbank’s incorporation as a city, I thought it might be nice to find Dr. David Burbank, namesake of our city.  So I set out on my search in ways neither Dr. Burbank nor the city founders 100 years ago could have imagined —- I Googled his name.
Google brought me mixed results.  My first attempt brought me links to “Dr. David Gordon – Burbank,” not at all what I was looking for.  Further attempts put the good doctor, Burbank, not Gordon, as being from Maine, while another said New Hampshire.
From what I had learned in school, I knew Dr. Burbank the dentist, and not the famed botanist Luther Burbank, was the man behind our city’s name.  As a past President of the Burbank Historical Society, I knew he was a sheep rancher whose home was located on what is now the Warner Bros. Studio back lot.  A smart businessman, he sold land to the railroad for $1, thus insuring a vital transportation link that benefits the city to this day.
But what became of Dr. Burbank after he sold his land?  He apparently moved to Los Angeles where he continued to invest in land, and according to one account, built a large theater/opera house downtown.  Born in 1821, Dr. Burbank died in 1895.  I wondered where his final resting place might be.  I knew for sure he wasn’t near the recently dedicated statue of him near the old Five Points intersection at Burbank and Victory Blvds. So I turned to an expert.
My friend Debi Mobley of Burbank, is one of the co-founders of a group called the Traveling Taphophiles.   Group members like to visit cemeteries. Some are interested in where famous people are buried.  Debi is particularly interested in the architecture of old tombstones.  When I called her last week, she knew exactly where Dr. Burbank was buried.  She agreed to take me there. 
I figured such a grave undertaking would have to be done in the morning, but she took me to the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery located at 1831 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, in the afternoon. Rosedale Cemetery was founded in 1884, and is the final resting place of some of Los Angeles’ most notable citizens from the distant, and more recent past.  It was purchased by the Angelus Funeral Home in 1993, and renamed Angelus-Rosedale. Once there, we passed several tombstones, some old, some fairly recent, until we reached a massive granite monument.  We were at Dr. David Burbank’s grave.
The name “BURBANK” is chiseled in large letters. Across the face of the monument, under a Masonic symbol, is “Dr. David Burbank, 1821 — 1895.” Debi pointed out other names on the monument.  On one side is Clara A. Burbank, June 23, 1830, Aug. 10, 1903.  From what I found, Clara was Dr. Burbank’s wife. On the other side panel was Frank M. Burbank, May 10, 1831, Jan. 26, 1903.  The real mystery is the names on the back of the monument. John W. Griffin, 1848-1921; and Flora W. Griffin, 1864-1932.  Debi speculated that perhaps Flora was David and Clara Burbank’s daughter, but so far we haven’t found any record to indicate that.
Just six feet away from the side of the monument were three small stone tombstones. One simply had chiseled on the top, “MOTHER.” Next to it was one with “FATHER” on the top, and “Dr. David Burbank, DEC. 17, 1821, JAN. 21, 1895.”   The third tombstone, more elaborate than the other two, with a carved flower on it, bore testament to what must have been a truly tragic time for the Burbank family.  It read, “ADIE Daughter of Dr. David Burbank, born Jan. 11, 1860, died April 1, 1871.”
Rosedale Cemetery, with its rows of simple military tombstones of Civil War veterans, its sometimes beautiful, sometimes odd, tombstones and crypts, is nothing like Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills, or Valhalla Memorial Park. The yellowing dry grass crunched under foot as we walked among the tombstones, several of which were pushed over. I tried to set one back up, only to find that granite tombstones, even small ones, weigh a ton.  Debi was quick to point out that even Dr. Burbank’s large monument appears to have not been immune to the vandals. The large upper granite block has been moved a good three inches to one side.
It will probably never happen, but it would be nice if Dr. Burbank and his family could be disinterred and reburied here in Burbank, maybe next to that big statue of him at Five Points.