Ever since my first visit to Los Angeles in 2012 I have been in love with Hollywood Forever Cemetery. For me, coming from the gloomy part of Europe, visiting a sun-kissed graveyard that’s so well maintained, with squirrels darting around and a skyline filled with palm trees, is equivalent to a tropical beach vacation. I didn’t have this blog yet during my previous trips to America, so I’m very excited to finally share this review with you of one of my favorite cemeteries in the world!
Like the city of Los Angeles itself, Hollywood Forever Cemetery is designed for access by car. As you will see in some of the photos in this review, cars are parked all along the cemetery lanes. In the Netherlands people park their car in the parking lot and enter a cemetery by foot, except for disabled people who get special access. But in the United States it is common to drive into a cemetery, right up to the grave you want to visit. In Chicago a friend once took me took a cemetery and we stayed inside the car the entire visit, just cruising through the city of the dead.
One of the first graves that caught my eye was the grave of, yes, mister Graves.
If you look close enough, you can see the Hollywood sign in up the hills at the end of the lane. Hollywood Forever Cemetery is where the dead find their eternal peace whilst being surrounded by glamour. And I get it – even though all the cliches about Hollywood are true – I felt mesmerized by the dazzling atmosphere of this amazing place from the first moment I entered the City of Angels.
Between 2012 and 2014 I worked as a video director and dreamed of living and working in LA. I never got around to getting an artist visa, neither did I get married to a handsome American man, but I definitely felt at home every time I visited. To me there’s just something magical about it. I can always sense the creative vibe in the air, and physically being in the same place that has influenced so many artists never ceases to inspire me.
It’s no wonder Hollywood Forever is a cemetery where a lot of celebrities are buried. One of its most famous residents isn’t human though. Toto, originally named Terry, was the dog who starred alongside Judy Garland in the movie The Wizard of Oz in 1939. She died in 1945 and was buried in her owners backyard in Studio City, but the grave was demolished when the property was sold and rebuilt due to the Ventura Freeway expansion. Toto was given a new monument at Hollywood Forever in 2011.
A bit of history: the cemetery was founded in 1899 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in the city, next to Evergreen Cemetery which is from 1877 and Rosedale from 1884. It covers 62 acres and is located on Santa Monica Boulevard, with the Paramount Pictures studios right behind it. The studios were built on half of the original cemetery grounds, while no bodies were interred there yet, or so they claim. Either way, the Paramount studios were literally built on cemetery grounds.
While doing some research I found a lot of rumors about financial scandals. For instance, the involvement of former owner Jules Roth, who spent cemetery funds on his own decadent enjoyments. He bought a yacht he claimed to use to scatter clients’ ashes with, but instead turned it into a party boat. Regardless of his misbehavior, he is still a part of the cemetery today, interred in the Cathedral mausoleum after his death in 1998.
Due to Hollywood Forever Cemetery being the resting place of hundreds of people from the entertainment industry, the cemetery refers to itself as “a walkable museum that attracts visitors from all over the world”. On their website they literally offer new soon-to-be-dead’s the option to be buried right next to Judy Garland, Johnny Ramone or Rudolph Valentino.
Let’s take a look at the huge mausoleums the cemetery holds. These gorgeous buildings have stained glass roofs that let the sunlight through, creating a soothing atmosphere with less than zero spooky vibes.
Hollywood actress Judy Garland died in 1969 and has a mausoleum pavilion named after her, where she was re-interred in 2017. I wonder how many of her fans have opted to be buried in her pavilion. It’s a rather strange idea to me really.
The only place I did get a little bit creeped out at of the entire cemetery was this glass display wall with little memorial shrines for the deceased. There were lots of pictures there, portraits that are not scary to look at by themselves, but combined together in a huge wall they startled me for a bit.
One very cool aspect of this cemetery is that they hold movie nights, concerts, lectures and other cultural events! You can bring a blanket and picnic basket and enjoy an outdoor movie screening among the graves. Some paranormal investigators say there is a lot of paranormal activity at the cemetery because some of the dead can’t seem to rest, but want to join in on the fun of the living instead. Perhaps this way they have the best of both worlds?
The Cathedral Mausoleum was built in 1918 and a total capacity of 1,454 crypts. Inside its main hall are beautiful statues of the twelve apostles, which were originally intended to be placed outside the mausoleum after it was expanded with three more units, which never happened due to legal issues. Still, it’s an impressive building.
A personal note: I got a phone call with some disturbing news right before my visit to the cemetery. My friend who was looking after my cat back home in Amsterdam called to tell me my cat had been having a weird cough for days. It sounded alarming to me and I spent the hours prior to my visit trying to get him to the vet, with a nine hour time difference. Because of this, my mind wasn’t fully set on exploring every part of this lovely place, which I had so wanted to do.
In the end it turned out my cat just had a bit of a hairball stuck in his throat. He was given something to pass it and was fine a couple hours later. But I am a fatalist sometimes and can imagine the worst possible outcome of any situation. This review could have been a lot more extensive, but alas. Here are some of my favorite graves that I did get to capture.
Some moments Hollywood Forever Cemetery hardly feels like a cemetery at all; it has a grandiose allure, alive in all its radiant colors, home to peacocks and tiny critters. I hope to visit this place again during my lifetime. Next time not on a mission to shoot everything I see to share it here, but to just bask in the sun, sit on one of the swinging chairs, and simply be.