Tampa architect works to save forgotten cemeteries

Thousands of people are buried in Tampa cemeteries that have fallen into disrepair and, in some instances, covered over with buildings.

In several cases, the owners of the cemeteries have died. 

Tampa-based architect Patrick Thorpe has become an advocate for the gone and sometimes forgotten who are buried at these cemeteries.

"My intent was to preserve history in some way," he said, standing in the Marti-Colon Cemetery on Columbus Avenue. "I see the folks who built this community."

When it looked like part of the cemetery would be developed, Thorpe stepped in and bought it. If he hadn't, he said, "We would be looking at a single-family residence on this property right now."   

Thorpe said he doesn't necessarily want to own cemeteries, but the trend in Tampa to let them fall away is troubling.

Recently, researchers announced the discovery of graves underneath the Robles Park housing complex. They were part of the forgotten Zion Cemetery.

LINK: Work begins to identify relatives of those buried at Zion Cemetery

"How a society treats their dead is how they're willing to treat their living," he said. "So if they pave over their dead, they're willing to pave over their living as well," 

Also at risk is the Memorial Park Cemetery on Dr. King Boulevard and 22nd Street, where many African American veterans of World War I are buried.

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"The owner of that cemetery recently passed away and now his family doesn't want to continue to maintain it," said Thorpe.

He wants the city to take ownership of the cemeteries to preserve them for the future. Thorpe said he's forming a non-profit organization that could help coordinate care and even hold celebrations in the cemeteries.

"It's not a somber, mundane experience. It's full of life. It's a celebration, the way it should be," he said.

He wants to bring life to graveyards and remember Tampa's forgotten cemeteries. He plans to bring his ideas to Tampa City Council.