Cemetery of the Week #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

The lady of aviation

Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery
10621 Victory Boulevard North Hollywood, CA 91606
Telephone: (818) 763-9121
Founded: 1923
Size: 63 acres
Number of interments: 7000 or more
Burbank Aviation Museum can be contacted here: PO Box 1215, Burbank, CA 91501-1215 Telephone: (818) 768-7881
The museum is open: Sundays, from noon – 4:00, weather permitting

The most famous person buried in Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery is Oliver Hardy, the rounder half of Laurel and Hardy. His grave lies south of the fountain in the Garden of Hope. His marker said only “Beloved Husband.” However, that didn’t satisfy The Sons of the Desert (the international Laurel & Hardy appreciation society), who placed a plaque to him on the garden wall in 1977. That reads, “A genius of comedy — His talent brought joy and laughter to all the world.”

Also buried at Valhalla are Curly Joe DeRita, the “Last Stooge,” who replaced Shemp Howard; the psychic Criswell, best remembered now for his part in Plan Nine from Outer Space; the woman who played the bailiff on Night Court; both Commander Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe, and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger; silent-era sirens the Girl with the Million Dollar Legs and the Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips; munchkins and flying monkeys; Mae (Violet) Clark, who played the doctor’s fiancée Elizabeth in the 1931 Frankenstein; and Aneta Corsaut, who played Steve McQueen’s girlfriend in The Blob. Even performing animals rested there. Circumventing the prohibition against pets being buried with their owners, animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax asked for his casket to be lined with the ashes of his beloved dogs, so they could be together for eternity. He’d trained several of the movie Lassies and twenty years’ worth of TV-show dogs.

Most of Valhalla is a level green field, which makes it difficult to find graves you might like to visit. Make sure you bring along a copy of Permanent Californians or Forever LA.

Roccoco urn

The gem of the cemetery is the five-story-tall Spanish Revival dome that dominates its flat green field. Built in 1924 as the Valhalla Memorial Rotunda, the towering dome originally served as entryway to the cemetery. It is tiled in sky blue and terracotta, cream and pale orange — colors of a sunset — laid out in a geometric, arabesque pattern. Rococo versions of all the Victorian death symbols frost the supporting base and cap work, along with the facings of the arched entries: inverted torches, ornate urns, wreaths, robed muses with downcast eyes. Above it all presided a graceful lady with outstretched arms, her gown swept back around her legs. The dome was sculpted by Federico A. Giorgi, who also designed a scene called “Balthazar’s Feast” in D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance. When he died in 1963, Giorgi was laid to rest in the lawn near his masterpiece at Valhalla.

With its pleasant acoustics, the dome functioned as a concert hall and venue for radio broadcasts. That ended once the airport opened nearby in 1930.

On December 17, 1953, the 50th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ flight over Kitty Hawk, the cemetery rechristened the dome as “The Portal of the Folded Wings – Shrine to Aviation and Museum.” It placed the ashes of some pioneer aviators under its floor: consecrating the space, in a way. A bronze plaque reads, “Welcome to this shrine of American Aviation. The plaques herein mark the final resting place of the pioneers of flight.” Among them lie: Walter Brookins, “first civilian student and instructor for the Wright Brothers.” A. Roy Knabenshue, “America’s first dirigible pilot. Father of Aerial Transportation. Built first passenger dirigible in the U.S.” W. B. (Bert) Kinner, “Builder Amelia Earhart’s first plane. Inventor compound folding wing.” (It’s hard to condense a lifetime of achievement onto a brass plaque.) John B. Moisant, “Designed and built first all metal airplane 1909. First to Fly English Channel with Passenger 1910,” who died that same year. Nearby lay his wife, Hilder Florentina Smith, “A pioneer parachute jumper and pilot 1914. In the year 1916 she was the first lady pilot to fly an aeroplane out of the bean patch that later became L.A. International Airport.” Carl B. Squier, “13th licensed pilot in America. Co-founder of Lockheed Aircraft. Known as the world’s greatest airplane salesman. Sold planes to Lindbergh, Earhart, Wiley, Post, and Getty.”

For a number of years, the dome has served as the temporary home of the Burbank Aviation Museum. When I visited, the free museum inhabited all four legs of the dome. Its displays ranged from mounted photographs to books of clippings, model airplanes, aircraft parts, and posters advertising aviation in the San Fernando Valley. Exhibits discussed aviation and the history of the shrine itself. At the May 27, 1996 re-dedication, Dr. Tom Crouch, Chairman of the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, served as keynote speaker. In 1998, the Portal dome was added to the National Register of Historic Places.The exquisite dome is a pleasant place to visit on a hot day in the San Fernando Valley. Staffed by volunteers, the museum is usually open Sunday afternoons, if the weather cooperates. Even if the museum itself is locked, the memorials are open during regular cemetery business hours.

Useful links:
Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery’s homepage

Photos of the stars buried at Valhalla

Burbank Aviation Museum homepage

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Valhalla:

Permanent Californians

Laid to Rest in California

Other graveyards of the Hollywood stars on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #5: Hollywood Forever

Cemetery of the Week #14: the Original Forest Lawn

Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park

Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus Rosedale Cemetery

9 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

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