Hollywood Forever

If you’re looking for the glitz and glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you need only to look in the rolling green acres that are its sepulcher set in the middle of the city its inhabitants talents once illuminated.

The Hollywood Forever Cemetery sign.

Hollywood Forever is the final resting place of many Hollywood celebrities and nearly lost to the obscurity of all forgotten cemeteries were it not for the restoration and rebirthing befitting such a repository of past fame and glory. 

Founded in 1899 on 100 acres of land, Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery has had an almost Hollywood-esque history of mismanagement, character owners, and movie lot neighbors – all to reopen in 1998 with major reinvestment makeovers and new tools to draw new users even before their ready to join the ranks in residence. Hollywood Forever is a bit of a redemption story right out of a movie made just next door on the Paramount movie lot. 

Nestled in a near culturally barren strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, the cemetery, now parceled down to 62 acres, is almost hard to spot amidst the auto shops, strip malls, and warehouses that line the street both east and west of the entrance.  Between the dingy industrial buildings stands a sign proclaiming its presence flanked by a tall iron fence and small plot of grass.

A quick turn in and subtle nod to the security guard, instantly you leave the bustle of the city space and enter into a sacred space that seems to be almost completely devoid of the noise from the outside world.

Once inside, there are ample driving paths to follow or, as I did that day, pick a place to park and begin to walk picking your way through the stones and fauna.  The gift shop sells a map of where the famous sleep (a fair $5.00 for the guide) without which one could lose more than several days time trying to find the more than 170 resident celebrities.

Sadly, looking at the list even now, few names conjure memories and of those that do their remembrance come from films I watched as a child on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in one of the thousand re-runs that television in the 70’s relied upon.  And of those remembered, there are even fewer that stand out in vivid memory. 

The monument reads: In memory of the soldiers of the Confederate States
Army who have died or may die on the Pacific coast, Erected by the
Confederate Monument Association.  
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet. Lest we forget – lest we forget.
On old image of the Civil War veterans and women at the unveiling of the Confederate monument at Hollywood cemetery in Los Angeles, Calif., circa 1920.
Civil War veterans and women at the unveiling of the
Confederate monument at Hollywood cemetery
in Los Angeles, Calif., circa 1920.
from the UCLA Image Archive

Some notables that will forever be remembered in Hollywood’s History buried there include: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Senior, Griffith Jenkins Griffith, Jayne Mansfield’ Tyrone Power’ Cecil B. DeMille, Peter Lorre, Charlie Chaplin, Fay Wray, and G. Mel Blanc.  One of the more recent celebrities interred in Hollywood Forever is Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone, memorialized in a bold bronze statue with his axe forever in hand.  Among the famous I found a Real Daughter of the American Revolution and a memorial stone in memory of the soldiers of the Confederate States Army who perished on the Pacific Coast, erected by the Confederate Monument Association.  An interesting consideration given the Confederate monument as Hollywood Forever’s second owner prohibited actress Hattie McDaniel from being buried there as it was a segregated cemetery that did not accept the bodies of black people.

Johnny Ramone grave site at Hollywood Forever
Johnny Ramone in Hollywood forever

You can find an extensive list of those celebrities in residence at Seeing-Stars.com.

As sacred spaces go, Hollywood Forever is an interesting one.  While it has the quiet attributes of a place devoted to memory and reverence, it’s hard to not be struck by its proximity to Hollywood(Paramount Studios abuts the property with sets clearly visible) but also for the inhabitants which draw a steady stream of devotes.  In the time of my visit, there were several groups who passed through stopping here and there to snap a photo touch a memorial.  Yet, still it evokes a sentimental sanctity that draws the Poe like writes who sit beneath its trees and stones looking for inspiration.

All faiths are represented on the grounds too.  From the Buddhist shrine (a quick right from the entrance) to the many Star of David’s, Crosses, Squares and Compasses, and many other motifs of belief.  The site bears a remarkable amount of faiths throughout.  I was especially fond of the use of Egyptian themes in the mausoleums and the many tall obelisks that memorialize the deceased.

Also, the cemetery is still an active one with an increasingly dense growth of new grave sites arranged in copses of family plots or closely associated cultural markers.  In some parts of the space these new marble memorials crowd out the older markers in some places surrounding a lone antique plaque of a forgotten family member.

One last emblem of sacredness that I would be remiss to mention is the old Masonic Lodge on the northern perimeter of the grounds.  Today, the temple is a cultural venue with any and all past Masonic emblems and motifs all stripped away on the outside but in name (and purpose) alone.  The city blog posted a photo from 2009 with an Order of the Eastern Star light fixture hanging from the rafters.  Formed out of the Bankers Masonic Club in 1924 Los Angeles, the lodge received a charter from the Grand Lodge of California in 1925 as Southland Lodge No. 617 when they moved into the Spanish Renaissance Revival building in 1931.  The building, now part of the main gate of Hollywood Forever, hosts concerts, plays, and other intimate events.  Outside of the lodge, the cemetery holds a variety of cultural activities on the grounds from movies in the park to annual Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

With the presence of the Masonic Lodge, the site is sufficient to solidify its sacredness of space as sacred with all the trappings that come with that distinction.

Hollywood Forever is definitely worth the visit if you are a native of the Southland or a visiting lover of all things sacred.  Plan to spend an hour or more roaming the many stones and memorials and be sure to pick up a map from the gift shop to guide your steps.  While you visit, be sure to take some time to soak in the quiet nostalgia of the site and listen to the echoes of the past as they carry on the winds from the traffic of breezing by on Santa Monica Boulevard.