Sunday, April 18, 2010
This is the junction of Wilshire Boulevard and Westwood Avenue in Los Angeles. North on Westwood is the campus of UCLA and its large medical center. To the West is the Federal building and Veterans' Administration complex. Beyond this junction to the east the boulevard is dubbed "Millionaires' Mile" because it is lined with soaring high-rise luxury apartment buildings. This is one of the busiest urban intersections in the United States.
It's said that 100,000 cars each day pass through the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Westwood Avenue in West Los Angeles.
Here on a Saturday morning, it's not quite that busy, but this boulevard is still a prime example of Los Angeles's car culture. The street landscape is not welcoming. Pedestrians have to brave ten lanes of traffic to cross Wilshire Boulevard. buildings for banks, real estate firms and Occidental Petroleum building present slick marble faces to the sidewalk.
This is not a place where you'd expect to find a refuge of eternal rest.
Walk down Glendon Avenue south of Wilshire, and turn into the driveway of the tall brown marble office tower that faces the street. You'll see a broad driveway, signs providing helpful directions to the parking garage.
But keep walking, and then turn right at the hedge.
Beyond here is Westwood Memorial Park Cemetery, hidden in the middle of this over-developed urban block. It's small - only a couple of acres in size. A lawn dotted with colorful floral memorials is dominated by huge trees - two tall evergreens and a vast chestnut tree that spreads its wide branches protectively over the graves.
To the north, the property is bordered by the walls of a long open crypt, the stone walls bearing named plaques and bronze holders for flowers. To the south, gardens and semi-private spaces shelter granite-marked graves.
Who rests here? This is the final resting place of many of Hollywood's elite. Just walking around I found some famous names.
Yes, the Incredible Mr. Limpet - Barney Fife - is buried here, in the grass behind the Avco Theatre.
Farrah Fawcett is a recent arrival. Sleep peacefully, Farrah. You earned your rest.
Great comics and character actors rest here. Walter Matthau and his wife Carol share a stone engraved with enjoined hearts.
Merv Griffin's stone reads "I will not be right back after this message."
Comic Rodney Dangerfield's headstone reads "There goes the neighborhood."
Some of the residents of this place have cult followings, notoriety or tragic histories. If you look at the map at SeeingStars.com, you can find the graves of Natalie Wood, Bob Crane, Dominique Dunne and Dorothy Stratten.
Others are simply odd-balls whose talents set them apart from everyday people. It's kind of cool to think of Roy Orbison and Frank Zappa getting together to jam with Buddy Rich.
Of course, one should really leave a white magnolia or some lush flower at the stone commemorating Truman Capote. He was interred here when he died in 1984, but at the death of his long-time companion, his ashes were exhumed to be scattered together in Bridgehampton New York.
The star of Westwood Memorial Park Cemetery lies in a crypt in this wall.
After death, she still fascinates. The crypt next to her is empty, but was bought in 1992 by Hugh Hefner so he might rest at her side. One wonders whether she would appreciate it, or whether this is just another example of predatory men exploiting this vulnerable woman and her fragile beauty. Although I don't suppose it matters much to her now.
In August of 2009, the crypt above her was auctioned off by the widow of its occupant, offering to exhume and move her husband if the sale of his crypt would help pay off her mortgage. So far, it hasn't sold.
Non-stars lie here too, although perhaps they derive a bit of glamor from their companions. Or maybe they bring their own glamor and class. This cemetery is located in the part of Los Angeles that is called Little Teheran for its population of Iranian immigrants, many of whom came here after the 1979 revolution.
And because everyone who lives in Los Angeles takes on a note of glamor and irreverence, we leave commemorating this lady.
Rita Kaslov, born December 14, 1937, died April 13, 2005. She is buried next to her husband Tommy, who died in 2000. They are pictured together in a photo engraved on the stone. Her stone proclaims that she was a psychic, and adds a note that a palm reading costs $5. Her stone also includes the motto: "Diamonds are a girl's best friend."
I bet that from her current perspective, Rita could give you a unique reading indeed.
All these fabulous souls in a little hidden block off Wilshire. If there's an afterlife I bet this is the location of the hottest party in town.