I (Lara) have never really thought of myself as a cemetery person, but after visiting Hollywood Forever Cemetery on New Year’s Eve (12/31/16) and taking a tour with Karie Bible, I would now definitely include myself in that category. Karie looks like a vision out of a 1940s movie magazine, with her dark waves, porcelain skin, and red lips, and you can spot her leading tours through the cemetery a few times a month dressed in black and carrying a parasol. Much of the info in this post I learned on the tour, and I highly recommend taking a tour yourself; they last about two hours and are $15 per person. Hollywood Forever is huge, and even if you purchase a map at the gift shop it can be hard to locate some of the celebrity graves, so it is nice to have an expert to guide you around. And Karie is not just an expert on Hollywood Forever; she is also an author and film historian who brings to life the stories of each person whose grave you will visit, sharing the details of their personal lives and careers with dignity and compassion.
It is fitting that, at a place that has the most star-studded “guest list” in town, there is a terrific view of the Hollywood sign from the gates, even though the cemetery’s story began well before the sign was erected in 1923. Originally, it read “Hollywoodland,” and was shortened to just “Hollywood” in 1945. Hollywood Memorial was founded in 1899 by Isaac Lankershim and Isaac Van Nuys, whose names you might recognize if you live here in SoCal; they both have streets named after them, and there is also the city of Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley. The cemetery was originally 120 acres, but then a film company leased some of the unused land, and then another film company did the same; that film company would become Paramount Pictures, which today shares a back wall with Hollywood Forever, and the cemetery was reduced to about 60 acres.
A very shady guy named Jules Roth owned Hollywood Forever from the 1950s to the late 1990s, and sold off a bunch of land in the front. Now, as you drive up Santa Monica Boulevard to the cemetery, you will see strip mall after strip mall and then suddenly there is the entrance. Sadly, under his ownership, Hollywood Forever fell into a period of ruin, with drugs, the homeless, and gangs running wild on the property. By 1998, it was in bankruptcy and in danger of being shut down, when a gentleman named Tyler Cassidy (whose family is in the cemetery business) bought Holllywood Forever for $375,000. He was the ONLY bid.
To say that Tyler brought Hollywood Forever back to life is an understatement. The cemetery is now a vibrant place, hosting movie screenings under the stars in the summer on the back wall of the Fairbanks Lawn, plays and standup comedy, concerts with artists like Annie Lennox and Lana del Rey, and a Dia de los Muertos party. It is also a popular filming location for tv shows (like MODERN FAMILY and AMERICAN HORROR STORY) and movies (like STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON). It is a beautiful and peaceful spot right in the heart of Hollywood that I will be visiting again and again.
6000 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90038