Cemetery of the Week #82: Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park

Skyscrapers loom over graves in Westwood Village Memorial Park

aka Westwood Memorial Park Cemetery
1218 Glendon Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90024
Telephone: (310) 474-1579
Founded: 1905
Size: 2.5 acres
Number of interments: 1000?
Open: 8 a.m. to dusk. Office closes at 5 p.m.

The first burials in the graveyard date from the 1880s, but the cemetery itself was established officially in 1905 by the State of California. At that time, it was called Sunset Cemetery and served as the burial ground for the sleepy village of Westwood. Surrounded by a low wall and dirt roads, Sunset Cemetery stood in the middle of grasslands and a handful of country homes.

Now Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park is entirely surrounded by high-rises, so that the graveyard is invisible from the street. You can only enter on its west side, from Glendon Avenue. Watch for a small sign about eye level on one of the buildings as you’re headed toward Wilshire Boulevard. The entrance looks as if you’re driving into a parking lot, but veer right at your first opportunity and you’ll see parking on the street that encircles the burial lawn.

The cemetery’s name changed to Westwood Memorial Park in 1926. The graveyard only allowed ground burials until 1952, when the first of its ten mausoleums was built. Service Corporation International bought the cemetery from the Pierce Brothers in 1991 and added it to their Dignity Memorial Network, which includes cemeteries across the US. In 2002, Westwood Memorial Park was recognized by the Cultural Heritage Commission of Los Angeles as a Historical-Cultural Monument.

Marilyn’s lipstick-pink marble

Seeing Stars says, “If you had to choose only one Hollywood cemetery to visit, Westwood Village Memorial Park would be your best bet.” This was not always the case. Joe DiMaggio chose this cemetery to be Marilyn Monroe’s final resting place because it was sleepy and out of the way. Since then, the marble front of her niche in the mausoleum has been stained pink by all the lipstick kisses left by fans.

Natalie Wood’s marker

According to Forever L.A.: A Field Guide to Los Angeles Area Cemeteries and their Residents, the second most-visited grave in Westwood belongs to Natalie Wood, who starred in Westside Story and Rebel Without a Cause, and drowned in her nightgown after a night of partying on a yacht with her husband Robert Wagner and co-star Christopher Walken.

Also buried in Westwood Memorial Park are Rodney Dangerfield (whose headstone says, “There goes the neighborhood.”), Rat Pack crooner Dean Martin, Bob Crane (most famous for Hogan’s Heroes and the scandalous way he died), Carroll O’Connor (who played Archie Bunker before he became a TV police chief), Don Knotts (who moved from The Andy Griffith Show to Disney movies to become the nosy landlord on Three’s Company, and original Charlie’s AngelFarrah Fawcett.

Don Knott’s lovely marker

The cemetery contains some especially sad stories. Dominique Dunne, the older sister in the first Poltergeist movie, was strangled by an ex-boyfriend. Heather O’Rourke, the pretty blonde girl swallowed by the Poltergeist house, died of heart failure during surgery at the age of 12. 20-year-old Dorothy Stratten, a Playboy Playmate of the Year, was transitioning into television guest spots and legitimate movies, when she was raped and murdered by the husband from whom she had separated.

Robert Bloch rests behind this gate

In addition to all the movie stars, Westwood has its share of writers. Author of In Cold Blood Truman Capote’s ashes are in a niche facing the cemetery entrance. The ashes of Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, are in the Room of Prayer columbarium beyond Marilyn. Billy Wilder, screenwriter of Sunset Boulevard and Some Like it Hot, has a headstone that reads, “I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect.” Near him lies Ray Bradbury, whose headstone remembers him as the author of Fahrenheit 451.

Bettie Page’s little stone

Some stars rest here without little fanfare. “Queen of the Pin-Ups” Bettie Page has a very modest stone.  Frank Zappa’s ashes are apparently buried in the unmarked grave beside Lew Ayers, who was TV’s Dr. Kildare. Roy Orbison, best remembered as a Traveling Wilbury or for the song “Pretty Woman,” lies in an unmarked plot above Frank Wright Tuttle’s bronze marker, according to The Tombstone Tourist: Musicians.

Useful links:

Capsule biographies of the stars buried in Westwood

A brief history of Westwood Village Memorial Park on the cemetery’s homepage

Does Marilyn’s ghost haunt Westwood?

Adventures in Grave Hunting in Westwood

The Westwood listing on CemeteryRegistry.us

My review of Permanent Californians

My review of Laid to Rest in California

To aid in your search, as none of the books I’ve referenced has a particularly good map, check out The Original Map to the Stars’ Bones: The Original Map to the Stars’ Bones