Hollywood Forever cemetery was founded in 1899 by farmer and businessman Isaac Van Nuys.
Originally called Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, the site was one of the first “park-like” cemeteries on the West Coast. It features a lush green landscape, classical architecture, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.
Hollywood Forever is the final resting place for more Hollywood bigwigs and celebrities than any other cemetery in the world. Stars such as Cecil B. DeMille, Johnny Ramone and Estelle Getty have all been laid to rest here. During the movie industry’s growth in the 1920s, visitors would flock to Los Angeles in search of celebrity homes and tombstones. Among the tombs was industrialist William J. Clark’s Greek Revival-style catacomb. Visitors must walk over a 40-foot granite bridge in order to reach Clark’s resting place, which sits on its own island in a lake and cost $500K to complete.
Though the cemetery flourished as an attraction through the 1940s, it became increasingly downtrodden over the next few decades. By the 1990s, the site suffered from mismanagement, neglect, and an earthquake which left potholes and open crypts in its wake. In late 1997, twenty-seven-year old Tyler Cassity purchased the lot for a mere $375,000 and has since worked to restore the estimated $7M worth of damages from the decades of neglect.
In the restoration process, Cassity has uncovered long-forgotten mausoleums and elaborate rooms filled with stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings. In October of 1999, Cassity erected a granite monument to Hattie McDaniel, an Oscar-winning African-American actress who died in 1952. Though McDaniel wished to be buried in the cemetery along with her Hollywood contemporaries, the bigotry of the time prevented her wish from being fulfilled. “They made a horrible decision and it is in our power to correct it,” Cassity said.
Since 2000, Hollywood Forever has teamed up with film organization Cinespia to feature “cemetery screenings” each summer. Thousands of people gather at the site with lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets, where they lie out under the stars and watch classic Hollywood films projected onto the side of a mausoleum. In true Los Angeles form, this mausoleum contains the remains of silent film actor Rudolph Valentino–his grave often decorated with the red kiss marks of admirers–actor Peter Finch, and dancer Eleanor Powell.
The screenings were meant to encourage a different interaction between cemeteries and the public, and have become a “must-do” event for local Angelenos. Though Cinespia mostly sticks to screening Hollywood classics such as It Happened One Night or Rebel Without a Cause, movies such as The Muppet Movie and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure have also made the cut. For brave souls, horror films such as Bride of Frankenstein and The Shining are shown, and of course, Halloween plays on October 31st.