Tag Archives: Los Angeles cemetery

Your first guide to the cemeteries of Los Angeles

Forever L.A: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their ResidentsForever L.A: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their Residents by Douglas Keister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the best guide to the cemeteries of Los Angeles yet. Jammed with Douglas Keister’s beautiful color photographs — all exquisitely printed — the book weighs more than the other guides, which might make it prohibitive to drag around a graveyard with you, if you’re juggling a camera and notebook, too. If you’re just sightseeing, this is the book for you. All the color headstone photos make it easy to know exactly what you’re looking for.

However, the book is short on history of the graveyards. Permanent Californians is better for that, as well as more fully developed biographies of the biggest stars. Forever L.A. also focuses on fewer celebrities; if you want a more comprehensive list, Laid to Rest in California is the book you want.

In addition, Forever L.A. suffers from puzzling organization. You can read the section on Westwood Village Memorial Park, but the text directs you elsewhere in the book to the listing for Don Knotts and somewhere else again to read about Marilyn Monroe. In fact, Marilyn’s biography snuggles up against one for Joe DiMaggio, who isn’t buried in L.A. at all. I guess this just proves my contention that any collection of gravestones is necessarily going to be idiosyncratic and reflect the predilections of the person compiling it.

I see what Keister was doing when he collected together all the stars of The Wizard of Oz or Bonanza or It’s a Mad, Mad (etc.) World, but I found it frustrating not to have all the cemetery information gathered into the appropriate chapter when I was standing in the graveyard. Is this book meant for armchair travelers or people in the field?

And why is the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland included at all? While the photos are lovely, the section takes up valuable book real estate that could have been used by Angelus Rosedale, where Hattie McDaniel is buried and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was filmed.

Still, if you are traveling to L.A. and want to visit graveyards, I suggest you start with this book. It’s the most recent and has by far the prettiest pictures. You just might want to dip into the other books for more depth after you get home.

Start your collection of L.A. cemetery guides here: Forever L.A.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

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

The Autumn People

The best bench in LA from which to contemplate the night.

My birthday is kind of a holy day for me. I try to take it off, spend it in a graveyard if at all possible. I’ve celebrated my birthday in Pere Lachaise, in the Bone Chapel of Kutna Hora, and in Colma’s many graveyards. Like the poet said, “Any day above ground is a good one.” If there’s sunshine and green grass, birdsong and statuary, or trees and flowers and poetry involved, so much the better.

Last week, I spent the morning of my birthday poking around Westwood Village Memorial Park near UCLA. (I’ll feature it tomorrow as the Cemetery of the Week.) I’d been to the cemetery once before, in the winter as night was falling, when it grew too dark to photograph anything, let alone find anyone other than Marilyn Monroe. I still had a wonderful time, sitting on a bench under a huge, spreading tree, listening to the night settle down in the big city.

I wanted to visit Westwood in the daytime, to see if I could find that same sense of peace. Better than that, I found the grave of Ray Bradbury.

The master’s headstone

Ray Bradbury is my literary hero. I’ve read his books to pieces. I’ve underlined and analyzed and memorized his writing. I had the opportunity to meet him only once. I was so tongue-tied I could barely tell him how much his work meant to me. Luckily, I think I was more eloquent as I stood over his grave, despite the tears in my eyes.

“For these beings, fall is ever the normal season,” he wrote in Something Wicked This Way Comes, the first of his books I read. “Where do they come from?” he asked. “The dust. Where do they go? The grave.”

It’s like he knew me. In the book, the autumn people are the bad guys, but I am an autumn person. I am headed to the grave, spiraling closer one year at a time, but every day in the open air is a blessing and a gift. It’s been a joy to have Ray Bradbury’s stories as company along the way.

I’m glad I finally got to tell him that.

Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus Rosedale Cemetery

Angels in Angelus Rosedale

Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
1831 West Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90007
Telephone: (323) 734-3155
Email: info@angelusrosedalecemetery.com
Founded: June 9, 1884
Size: 65 acres
Number of interments: An estimated 100,000
Open: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

In 1884, when Los Angeles was a small city of under 30,000 people, Rosedale Cemetery was founded on 65 acres of land facing Washington Boulevard between Normandie Avenue and Walton and Catalina Streets.

Designed as a lawn cemetery with beautiful trees and flowering shrubs, Rosedale now has mostly upright headstones, interspersed by some beautiful sculptures and family mausoleums. The cemetery also sports several pyramid crypts, including one for George Shatto, who first developed Catalina Island as a resort.

America’s first crematory west of the Rocky Mountains — and only the second crematory in the country — opened at Rosedale in 1887. By 1913, it had already performed almost 2400 cremations.

Rosedale was the first cemetery in Los Angeles to accept all races and creeds. Among those buried there is Hattie McDaniel, the first Black woman ever to sing on the radio. While her cinematic career spanned over 300 movies, she is best remembered for playing Scarlett’s Mammy in Gone with the Wind — a role that earned her the distinction of becoming the first African-American recipient of an Academy Award.

Ms. McDaniel’s last wish had been to be buried at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery amongst the glittering stars of Hollywood. Because of the color of her skin, she was rejected. Her very modest headstone lies near the gates of Angelus Rosedale. (Hollywood Forever put up a cenotaph to her memory in 1999. The story is here.)

Other permanent residents include Tod Browning, director of the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula; Eliza Donner Houghton, who survived the Donner Party’s winter in the Sierras at the age of 3 and went on to marry a Congressman; Maria Rasputin, daughter of the mad Russian monk; Harry Kellar, a stage magician whose performances influenced Houdini; various Los Angeles pioneers, as well as mayors, governors, and politicians; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star. She appeared in Douglas Fairbanks’s Thief of Baghdad and with Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express.

The Angelus Funeral Home on Crenshaw purchased the graveyard in 1993. At that time, it was renamed Angelus Rosedale Cemetery.

Palms at Angelus Rosedale

With its photogenic lines of palm trees, Angelus Rosedale has appeared in the Clive Barker film Lord of Illusions, Nightmare on Elm Street 4: the Dream Master and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, as well as many episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and Six Feet Under.

Every autumn, the West Adams Heritage Association presents a cemetery tour featuring costumed actors speaking as people buried in the cemetery. Each tour is different. Watch for this year’s tour here.

Useful links:

Angelus Rosedale website

Lots of historical information

Google Maps virtual tour

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Angelus Rosedale:

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 #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park


Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park

Jacob wrestles the angel at Hillside Memorial Park

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary
6001 W. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90045
Telephone: (310) 641-0707
Established: 1946
Size: 40 acres
Number of interments: over 60,000
Open: Sunday through Friday 8 p.m.-5 p.m. Hillside is closed Saturdays and all Jewish Holy Days.

Al Jolson, star of the original talking picture, has one of the most ostentatious graves in Southern California. After Douglas Fairbanks’ shrine with its white marble columns and reflecting pool at Hollywood Forever, that’s saying something.

Just inside the gateway at Hillside Memorial Park, the Jolson monument is impossible to miss. In fact, Permanent Californians reports that the monument has become a landmark along the San Diego Freeway. A two-story waterfall (unfortunately switched off for repairs during my visit) steps five blue-tiled levels down the hillside. On the grassy knoll at the head of the falls stands a round Grecian-style temple like the temple of Athena at Delphi. The six white marble columns blazed in the SoCal sun. Apparently, Jolson’s third wife paid $75,000 for the monument in 1950: the same amount Fairbanks’ widow spent on his shrine.

Al Jolson’s momument

Jolson’s grave is the antithesis of the modern mausoleum. Its columns soar skyward, supporting a brilliantly colored mosaic of Moses resting the Ten Commandments (written out in Hebrew) against his shoulder. Surrounding the mosaic runs the inscription, “Sweet singer of Israel, man raised up high”: King David’s last words from the second book of Samuel.

Inside Jolson’s monument

I’d mistakenly expected the nearby bronze statue of Jolson — down on one knee, arms flung wide — to be gigantic. Instead, it was less than life-size. He smirked as if he’d just belted out, “Mammy, how I love ya, how I love ya!” His blackface performance is not one of American film’s finest moments. It might be justly forgotten, without the benefit of being the first motion picture with sound — and if not for this amazing display of funerary art, which was designed by the first African American Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Also buried at Hillside are Shelley Winters (whom you’ll remember from the original Poseidon Adventure) and Moe Howard (boss of The Three Stooges), Michael Landon (of TV’s Little Home of the Prairie) and his TV father, cowboy Lorne Greene, and television pioneers Milton Berle, Jack Benny, and Dinah Shore.

Vic Morrow, star of Humanoids from the Deep and The Bad News Bears, hadn’t made an impression on me until his last film. The 1983 Twilight Zone movie wasn’t good or particularly scary, but it had the pre-release publicity that Morrow had sacrificed his life to make it. As John Landis illegally filmed his climactic Vietnam sequence one night, Morrow carried two kids across a simulated rice paddy in the Santa Clara River. One of the FX explosions went off too close to the helicopter above them and swatted it out of the sky. The rotors sliced through Morrow, decapitating him and dismembering both children.

Permanent Californians gave us only the vaguest coordinates to Morrow’s grave, limiting our search to Block 5 of the Mt. Olive section. Finally, as I was about to give up the hunt, I stumbled across Morrow’s headstone. Eloquent in its simplicity, it said only, “I loved him as ‘Dad.’ To everyone else, he was ‘Vic.’”

I blinked back tears. Facing his tombstone, I was forced to consider the family and friends he’d left behind. Vic Morrow was loved and missed. My reasons to visit him would have appalled his survivors. Chastened, I left a pebble on his grave.

Useful links:

The cemetery’s homepage (not updated recently)

PDF guide to Hillside’s Distinguished Residents

A beautiful photo gallery

Information about the sculpture of Jacob wrestling with the angel

Seeing Stars entry on the celebrities of Hillside

GPS information on CemeteryRegistry.us

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Hillside:

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 #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus Rosedale Cemetery