The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously recommended Thursday that the City Council designate the Hollywood Forever Cemetery an historic-cultural monument.
The cemetery was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, the cemetery’s 100th anniversary. On June 25, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell began the city’s effort to include the cemetery on its own list of historic-cultural monuments.
“I was surprised that this wasn’t already on our list. … It’s always interesting when something comes before us that you think, `That’s not a monument yet?”’ Commissioner Richard Barron said.
The monument designation was recommended for the cemetery’s association with the early development of Hollywood and the western expansion of Los Angeles during the 20th century, as well as for its association with the development of the cemetery industry in L.A. and the development of Jewish burial facilities in the city.
The commission also found that the cemetery represents one of the earliest and most-stylized examples of lawn-park cemetery designs in Los Angeles and a notable work of cemetery planner Joseph Earnshaw.
Heather Goers, senior architectural historian of Historic Resources Group, spoke to the commission about the significance of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery before it voted to recommend the property’s designation. She noted that the period of significance for the property spans from 1899, the cemetery’s establishment, to 1941, when the Douglas Fairbanks Monument was erected. That monument was designed by Howard Seidell of the Georgia Marble Company and was erected two years after actor Douglas Fairbanks’ death.
Goers noted that much of the early decades of the cemetery were caught up in litigation, so Earnshaw’s vision for the cemetery wasn’t executed immediately, and much of the cemetery’s period of growth occurred in the 1920s.
Character-defining structures include the Historic Chapel designed by Hunt and Eager as part of the cemetery’s original entry complex, the Cathedral Mausoleum designed by Marston and Van Pelt, the Chapel of the Psalms designed by Frank Gibson, the Clark Mausoleum designed by Robert Farquhar, the Casket Display Room, the Bell Tower, the Abbey of the Psalms Mausoleum, and the Masonic Temple which was constructed in 1931 by Morgan, Walls & Clements.
As part of the cemetery’s western development, it set aside a portion of the property for Jewish burials in 1927. That same year, the cemetery also began developing a mausoleum exclusively for Jewish interment.
“This really also reflected the growing Jewish community in Los Angeles, and also their westward expansion, as well, as Jewish enclaves emerged in mid-Wilshire and Hollywood, other temples were constructed further westward and there was a desire to be closer to those centers of faith and to have facilities that were closer to where they resided rather than having to travel,” Goers said.
The property became a tourist destination due to high-profile and celebrity burials, which began as early as 1910, when the victims of the Los Angeles Times bombings were buried in the cemetery.
“We can talk about the buildings and structures and landscape features that make this property significant in terms of its development, but one of the things that is abundantly clear in researching this property and experiencing it is its intangible connection to the history of Hollywood … the fact that those burials were people who helped pioneer and develop Hollywood,” Goers said.
Over its more than 120 years as a cemetery, the property has laid to rest Rudolph Valentino, Mickey Rooney, Estelle Getty, Judy Garland, Griffith J. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille and more.
Goers added that many of the celebrities who were buried at the cemetery in its early years could have chosen more established cemeteries but decided to “be buried instead in the community that they helped build.”
Tyler Cassity, co-owner of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, expressed his support for the designation before the Cultural Heritage Commission deliberated and voted.
“We are committed to the long-term care and preservation of Hollywood Forever, a cultural landmark and historical touchstone like none other,” Cassity said.
Commission President Barry Milofsky and Commissioner Diane Kanner noted the diversity of the population buried at the cemetery.
“There’s large numbers of immigrant families — Slavic, Russian, Hispanic,” Kanner said. “Milofsky added “the cemetery is as diverse as the general population of the city, it reflects that diversity which makes L.A. unique.”
The nomination will next go to the City Council for a final vote. A date for the vote was not immediately set.