Tag Archives: Holy Cross Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #110: Holy Cross Cemetery

Grotto angel at Holy Cross

Grotto angel at Holy Cross

Holy Cross Cemetery
5835 West Slauson Avenue
Culver City, California 90230
Telephone: (310) 836-5500
Founded: 1939
Size: 200 acres
Number of interments: more than 160,000
Open: Weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Sundays.

Near the Jewish cemetery called Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary lies Catholic Holy Cross Cemetery. Holy Cross mimics the design of the Forest Lawn chain, with headstones replaced by small stone plaques set flush with the sod. At 200 acres, Holy Cross is the largest of the 11 Catholic cemeteries in Los Angeles.

Culver City, home of Holy Cross, lies west of downtown Los Angeles and just south of Century City. When the cemetery was founded in 1939, Culver City was considered the “heart of the film industry.” Because of that, many film industry veterans chose Holy Cross to be their final home. According to Laid to Rest in California, the cemetery staff is very helpful in pinpointing anyone you might like to visit on the cemetery maps.

View of the grotto at Holy Cross

View of the grotto at Holy Cross

Most celebrities surround the manmade grotto on the high ground in the southwest part of the cemetery. Once you enter the ornate main gate, turn left and drive up the hill. A grotto is a small cave, usually artificial, in a garden or park. In Europe, natural grottoes like the one at Lourdes are considered sacred sites, where Christian or even earlier miracles have occurred. In Los Angeles, they build their own grottoes and no one expects miracles.

This pile of rocks hosts several white marble statues: the Virgin with hands clasped in prayer, Joseph displaying the baby, and several kneeling angels who looked as if they’d been meant to adore at a crèche rather than gaze at the sod. Someone had placed flowers in front of one of the angels’ knees. We found Rita Hayworth’s monument in the grass on our way over to see her.

Rhoads_HC_TateSharon Tate’s grave also lies near the grotto. A polished granite slab with white lettering remembers “Our Loving Daughter & Beloved Wife of Roman,” 26-year-old actress Sharon Tate Polanski, and Paul Richard, “Their Baby.” According to Helter Skelter, Susan Atkins made a point of stabbing Sharon—eight months pregnant—in the belly, in order to kill the baby before it could be born. (Atkins was the first of the Manson Family killers to die in prison.)

Down the hill a little way, Bela Lugosi rests in the same row as Bing Crosby. Elsewhere in the cemetery are buried Ray Bolger and Jack Haley (respectively, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz), comedian John Candy, director John Ford, musical comedian Spike Jones (but not namesake Spike Jonez), Fred MacMurray, dancer Ann Miller, Rosalind Russell, Lawrence Welk, and many, many more.

Useful links:

Holy Cross Cemetery and Mortuary’s homepage

Seeing Stars’ tour of Holy Cross, complete with map of the grotto area

IMDB’s list of stars at rest at Holy Cross

News story about the cemetery

Photos of the interior of the mausoleum

GPS information on CemeteryRegistry.us

L.A. cemetery books reviewed on Cemetery Travel:

Forever L.A.: A Field Guide to Los Angeles Area Cemeteries and their Residents

Laid to Rest in California: A Guide to the Cemeteries and Grave Sites of the Rich and Famous

Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of 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 #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park

Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery

Communing with my Idol

HC Lugosi001Holy Cross, it goes without saying, is a Catholic cemetery. It hadn’t occurred to me that Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi had been Catholic. I knew he’d been addicted to morphine and that he’d been buried in his tuxedo and black silk opera cape, but I hadn’t known what the man who’d portrayed my first literary crush had believed about his immortal soul.

“I wish I’d known we were coming here,” I told Brian, who’d surprised me with a late-afternoon cemetery adventure. “I would have bought him some roses.”

I grew up watching Sir Graves Ghastly host horror movies on Saturday afternoons, never understanding the homage. Sir Graves was an elderly man in white tie and tails, hosting movies in a thick, obviously fake accent which I now realize he’d cribbed from Lugosi. Sir Graves showed all the classic black-and-white horror movies of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties.

Looking back, I recognize that the show was aimed at children. A “Ghoul Gallery” displayed children’s drawings inspired by monsters they’d seen on the show. That part always bored me. I simply wanted to see the heroines in their silk peignoirs swooning in the moonlight to be carried off by Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney, Jr. or Lugosi himself.

Even as a child, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be the heroine or the monster, but I knew I wanted nothing to do with the villagers and their torches.

The first vision of Lugosi standing on the castle steps, cape draped around him and eyes twinkling with reflected candlelight, changed my life. I would have died to be there with him, away from the farm and the small Michigan town where I grew up. When I saw Lugosi, I understood that I needed to escape.

I’ve stood at a lot of grave sites, but never before at one whose occupant had so altered and inspired my life. The marker was too simple to convey the depth of my admiration for the man below. Illustrating the stone was a polished black granite rose twining around a plain cross marked “I H S,” the abbreviation for Jesus in Greek. The epitaph listed only his name, “Beloved Father,” and 1882-1956.

Brian slipped away to allow me a few moments to commune with my idol. I wondered if I should prick my finger, add a drop of my blood to the green grass blanketing the grave.

“You are remembered,” I whispered.


This essay is excerpted from a longer one in Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. You can get a copy from Amazon.

Traveling through Movies

St. Louis #1, New Orleans

St. Louis #1, New Orleans

I’m working hard to promote The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two, a collection of ghost-hunting reports and short stories which I edited, with a series of interviews on my other blog. Unfortunately, that means that Cemetery Travel hasn’t been getting the attention it deserves.

While I haven’t been getting out physically to visit cemeteries, it doesn’t meant that I’ve stopped obsessing about them. In fact, my husband and I were watching a movie last night when the action suddenly raced through a graveyard. If it had been possible, I would’ve slowed the movie down to a frame at a time so I could really absorb what I was seeing. The plot would have had to wait for me to glut my eyes.

The cemetery feature I was enjoying? It’s called The Naked City, the 1948 noir that gave us the line, “There are eight million stories in the naked city.” You may have even watched the movie without noticing the cemetery scene at all, since it’s just a backdrop for the murderer to flee the police. I turned to my husband and said, “I think that’s the Marble Cemetery.”

We’d stood outside its locked gate last summer while I pined to get in.

It’s got me thinking about other cemeteries that show up in movies. One of the first I saw was Holy Cross–in Colma, California–in this great scene from Harold and Maude:

And there’s the acid trip scene in Easy Rider, which was filmed in St. Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans. I won’t link to that here, since I can’t find a clip that shows much of the cemetery, but it’s in the movie, if you care to go looking for it.

One of my favorite cemetery scenes that’s actually integral to the movie’s plot is in the scene in the churchyard of San Francisco’s Mission Dolores in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Jimmy Stewart follows Kim Novak to a prop headstone, but while most people are watching the story unfold, I’m always admiring the old rosebushes and the lovely old gravestones and the imitation Grotto of Lourdes that has since been removed. You can catch a glimpse of the graveyard in the trailer:

Think about it: how many cemetery scenes can you name in movies?  When you saw it, were you paying attention to the plot–or were you, like me, trying to read the headstones?

Edited to add:

I’ve been doing more research about the cemetery in The Naked City.  The best I can figure out is that it isn’t really a cemetery at all.  Take a look at a still from the film:

naked_tombstonesNot only are the tombstones very close together, but there’s no visible text on any of them.  I think this isn’t a graveyard at all but a tombstone showroom.  That’s sort of borne out here.

Still, my point remains:  I obsess over graveyards in movies.


Colma, Before the Graveyards

Colma, CA (Images of America)Colma, CA by Michael Smookler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only thing that keeps this book from getting 5 stars is that it isn’t longer. I have several books on the cemeteries of Colma, California, so it’s nice to have one about the city’s history prior to its 17 graveyards. Smookler does a good job of giving a sense of what life was like there, before the living were replaced by the dead.

For those who don’t know, Colma, California was a sleepy little farming town south of San Francisco.  When the big city real estate interests decided they wanted to develop the land in the peninsular city that had been devoted to graveyards, they passed a series of laws outlawing burial in the city, which slowly strangled the cemeteries of their income.  Eventually, all the bodies were removed from San Francisco and the grave monuments were smashed up to provide breakwaters at Ocean Beach, the Marina, the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, and other construction projects around town.

As if that isn’t morbid enough, Colma absorbed all the pioneers who were unearthed.  Now the dead outnumber the living in Colma more than 100,000 to 1.

Smookler’s book illustrates the farming village before and after the change.  Irish immigrants grew potatoes, Itallians grew flowers, there were blacksmiths and horse ranchers and pig farmers.  Then the Archbishop of San Francisco, seeing the writing on the wall, purchased a large tract of land for a cemetery. The Catholics were followed by the owners of Laurel Hill Cemetery, several Jewish congregations, the Odd Fellows, the Masons, and ethnic groups from the Chinese, the Japanese, the Serbians, and the Italians, all of whom purchased land so they could remain together after death.

Colma remains a fascinating place to this day.  Smookler’s book reveals the town beyond the graveyard walls, shaped by local employment opportunities and the proximity of its quiet residents.  I found the book entirely fascinating.

You can order your own copy from Amazon: Colma (Images of America) (Arcadia Publishing))

Other books I’ve reviewed that relate to Colma:

City of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma

Forgotten Faces: A Window into Our Immigrant Past

Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of California

Cypress Lawn: Guardian of California’s Heritage

Pillars of the Past: At Rest at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park 

City of Souls

City of Souls: San Francisco's Necropolis at ColmaCity of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma by Michael Svanevik

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

California’s Colma is unique in the U.S. as a city founded to safeguard the rights of the dead. This little book traces Colma’s history from a fog-bound valley of pig and potato farms to a city of 17 cemeteries with millions of permanent residents.

Colma was founded after burials were banned in San Francisco.  Pioneers buried at Mission Dolores, as well as in the Masonic, Odd Fellows, Catholic and Protestant Cemeteries were uprooted and transferred to new graves in the Colma cemeteries.

Each of the Colma cemeteries receives its own brief chapter, spotlighting important or interesting burials, which are marked on a graveyard map. The variety of memorials is astounding — from the millionaire mausoleums of Cypress Lawn to the handmade monuments crowded into Pets Rest, from the Eastern European flavor of the Serbian graveyard to the East Asian texture of the Japanese or Chinese cemeteries — all documented by black-and-white photos. There’s a lot here to delight the eye and entertain the intellect. This little book is a must for anyone interested in cemeteries.

Although new copies can be hard to find, several are available on Amazon: City of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma

View all my reviews