The history of the Cathedral Mausoleum

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

The history of Hollywood Forever’s Cathedral Mausoleum

 

 

  

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

This past summer a controversial construction project began at the front of the historic Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery—four additions of crypts and niches were constructed, two on each side of the entrance. The mausoleum is the final resting place for many of Hollywood’s pioneers and film celebrities. Every August 23rd, fans of Rudolph Valentino gather there to pay their respects to the actor in the mausoleum’s massive foyer. In 1937, the founder of Hollywood, Harvey Wilcox, his wife Daeida and other family members were moved here from their former resting place at Rosedale Cemetery. The completed mausoleum, in existence now for 89 years, has only a few original crypts remaining for sale. This is a brief story of the mausoleum’s history.

 

Mausolus, Satrap and ruler of Caria from 377 to 353 B.C., and husband of Artemisia, achieved distinction as the first ruler ever to be honored by the erection of a monument in which his own remains were placed. Though Augustus and Hadrian in Rome may have exceeded in splendor the structure which the widow, Artemisia, built in her husband’s honor, they could not leave to posterity, as Mausolus did, a name for an institution that has continued to surround the burial of loved ones with beauty, refinement and sacredness. It is from Mausolus that we derive the word mausoleum. In 1919, Hollywood Cemetery completed the first unit of a modern replica of such an ancient structure.

 

The plans to build a large mausoleum on the grounds of Hollywood Cemetery were first envisioned in late 1916. The original illustrations for the imposing building were somewhat different than what was finally constructed.

 

 

 

Above is the original design for what would be the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Cemetery, January 1916.

 

 

In October, 1917, the California Mausoleum Company, who had constructed mausoleums at Evergreen Cemetery in Riverside and one at Inglewood Cemetery, was hired to oversee the project. The architectural firm of Marston and Van Pelt of Pasadena drew up the plans and William C. Crowell was hired as contractor. Construction began immediately.

 

The plans called for a structure much larger than the Inglewood mausoleum with the edifice of concrete, brick and steel construction, faced with heavy blocks of California granite, and set with rusticated joints. The interior is finished throughout in marble, with decorative features in bronze. Art and cathedral glass was used for ceiling and window lighting. The mausoleum follows the Italian Renaissance design, with the central entrance having a Palladian motive executed in marble.

 

 

 

Above is the completed first unit of the new Hollywood Mausoleum. For those that are familiar with the mausoleum, does anyone notice something strange? I will address it at the end of the article.

 

 

 

Above is a corridor in the first unit built for the Cathedral Mausoleum. 

 

 

 

 

 

Above is the entrance to the Cathedral Mausoleum

 

 

It took a year to finish construction and the unit was dedicated in October 1918. The demand for crypts in the new Hollywood Mausoleum, as it was called at the time, was great and quickly sold out. In April 1921, the cemetery announced the construction of the second unit of the mausoleum. New plans revealed that the mausoleum would comprise, when completed, five units covering more than three acres, and provide for 6,000 crypts, all above ground. Both individual crypt groups and family sections would be arranged over a huge rotunda, around a great central alcove and along the sides of radiating corridors. At a total cost of $2 million dollars, it would be the largest structure of its type in the world.

 

 

 

Above is an artists rendering of what the completed Hollywood Mausoleum would look like. It’s not a great copy but the large rotunda and two other units behind it can still be seen.

 

 

 

Above is the rear of the Cathedral Mausoleum. The empty lawn is where the rotunda and the additional units would have been located if plans were followed.

 

 

The second unit was finally completed in September 1922. The new structure contained an additional 888 crypts, giving the entire mausoleum a total capacity of 1,454 crypts. In the new section there were 744 individual crypts and twenty-four family sections of from six to twenty-four crypts each. All were faced with Alabama marble. The family sections are separated from the main corridors by bronze gates or marble pedestals (the gates are missing is some sections and the marble pedestals are no longer there). There is also a section for those who desired cremation using specially designed urns provided by the company.

 

 

 

Above is a corridor in the Cathedral Mausoleum with the original gate of a family room still intact.

 

 

 

 

The cremation section in the main foyer

 

 

The main corridor, which originally was designed as a chapel, had a religious note by the design of the interior and by the use of artistic stained glass, which softened the light and gave the entire room an air of reverence. A large floor-to-ceiling stained glass window once located on the southern wall, no longer exists except for the top archway glass. The remaining stained glass has been removed. At the time, plans were made for a series of mural designs as decorations for the room. The corridors were carpeted and lined with potted plants and shrubs.

 

 

 

The main foyer in the Cathedral Mausoleum can be seen above. The stained glass window near the ceiling at one time went down to the floor. It is now boarded up and a door leads out to the rear lawn.

 

 

 

 The stained glass window in the private family room of millionaire merchant, William Adam Faris.

 

 

 

The builders promoted a new ventilation system used in the mausoleum that was advertised as “incomparably sanitary” which can be seen above.

 

 

An open house was held on Sunday, November 12, 1922 for the public to visit the newly completed double-unit of the Hollywood Mausoleum. The invitation read:

 

“Inspect for the first time the building which eventually will contain 6,000 above-ground crypts—built of concrete, and faced with granite and marble.

 

“See the stateliness of its Italian façade, it beautiful marble interior with solid bronze appointments. View its exquisite stained glass windows, its chapel-like corridors—and feel for yourself the very sacredness of its cathedral atmosphere.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The plans for the remaining three units and the great central alcove were never completed. Hollywood residents, led by Senator Cornelius Cole, resisted the expansion of the cemetery during construction of the second unit and threatened litigation, even petitioning to have the cemetery closed. At the same time construction of crypts and a chapel were taking place on the western end of the property. Even when the problems were ironed out, the plans to expand the mausoleum never materialized. It’s unfortunate that the vision was not realized; it would have been an imposing and architecturally beautiful structure.

 

The first internments in the second unit of the Cathedral Mausoleum were Samantha Kelly and her grandson, Harry Earl. Kelly, a pioneer hotel woman, was born in Ohio in 1828. She came to Los Angeles from Indianapolis in 1882 in one of the first trains that travelled westward over the plains. She was one of the pioneers in the hotel business in Los Angeles and at different times owned and managed many of the largest hostelries in the city, including the Figueroa and the old Heatham and Ardmore hotels.

 

Kelly’s grandson, Harry Earl, was at one time the stage director of the old Belasco Theater and had died nine years earlier. He was almost worshipped by his grandmother, as well as by his mother, Katherine Earl. When he died in 1913, the two women kept his ashes with them at their home, 417 South Central Avenue. When Samantha Kelly died on July 22, 1922 at the age of 94, she was interred in a crypt in the still uncompleted mausoleum and in the crypt next to hers was placed the ashes of her grandson, Harry Earl.

 

 

 

The crypts of Samantha Kelley (left) and her grandson, Harry Earl.

 

 

The statues of the twelve apostles which now line both sides of the inside corridor, were originally to be placed on pedestals in a semi-circular lot behind the mausoleum. But these plans also never came to pass and it was decided to move them indoors, where they will probably remain permanently.

 

 

 

 

 

Several years ago electricity and lighting was added to the interior making it available for nighttime services. The damage to the mausoleum caused by the neglect of the then-owner, Jules Roth in the 1990s was restored when Tyler Cassity bought the cemetery. Whether the current changes made to the Cathedral Mausoleum will cause further concern to those who love Hollywood Forever Cemetery, are still to be heard from. Once the facings and architectural trimmings are completed, I will post photographs of the finished product.

 

 

 

The stained glass window that is next to Rudolph Valentino’s crypt.

 

 

Some of the prominent people whose final resting place is in the Cathedral Mausoleum are:

 

  • Barbara La Marr – Silent film actress
  • Rudolph Valentino – Silent film actor
  • June Mathis – Screenwriter
  • Peter Finch – Academy Award winning actor
  • Max Karger – MGM producer
  • Daieda Wilcox Beveridge – Founder of Hollywood
  • Horace Wilcox – Founder of Hollywood
  • J. Peverell Marley – Cinematographer
  • William Desmond Taylor – Silent film director, victim of unsolved murder
  • Peter Lorre – Actor
  • Dr. Henson H. Cross – Early Los Angeles physician
  • Eleanor Powell – Actress and dancer
  • Rick Jason – Television actor on Combat
  • Jesse Fonda Millspaugh – President of Los Angeles State Normal School
  • Ernst Dryden – Artist
  • Cecile Lovsky – Actress
  • Thomas Miranda – cofounder of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  • Jules Roth – One-time owner of Hollywood Cemetery
  • William Hutchinson – Silent film actor
  • Walter Henry Rothwell – Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl
  • Edmund Sturtevant – Hollywood pioneer
  • Annetta Solaski – Opera singer
  • William H. Clune – Motion picture studio pioneer—Clune Studios (now Raleigh Studios)
  • Harry Delmar – Vaudevillian
  • Max Whittier – Beverly Hills pioneer
  • Mary Eudora Vance – Aunt of Carol Burnett
  • Capt. A.W. Murray – Los Angeles Police Chief
  • George W. Hoover – Builder of the Hollywood Hotel
  • Marie Weid – Widow of Hollywood pioneer, Ivar Weid (Ivar Street is named after him)
  • Theresa Dorris – mother of Wesley and Charles Ruggles and murder victim
  • Henry Smith Carhart – Physicist
  • William C. Crowell – Contractor for the Cathedral Mausoleum

 

 

The oddity in the photograph I mentioned earlier is what looks like grave markers in the ground in front of the mausoleum. There have never been graves there. If they are grave markers, they were obviously moved but the questions are who were they and where were they moved to.

 

 

 

 

 

Above is the Cathedral Mausoleum as it was on November 13, 2011

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17 Responses to “The history of the Cathedral Mausoleum”

  1. Melissa says:

    This is absolutely perfect….what a WONDERFUL article. For me, it was like a drug….directly to the vein. I just love it. Marry me.

    PS Those now you see them, now you don’t graves are bothering the h*ll out of me. I HOPE whoever was buried there was properly moved with their corresponding headstones.
    __________________________
    HAHA THANKS MELISSA. I THOUGHT THE SAME ABOUT THOSE MARKERS.

  2. JudithDM says:

    Fascinating!!!!!!!!

  3. Harry Martin says:

    Thank you so much — this was incredibly interesting. And FYI — electricity is only in the main corridor entrance. I know this from the 2005 Hollywood Underground Dinner.

    Allan, this was so interesting. Thank you for the history and the photos!
    ______________________________________
    THANKS HARRY.

  4. Jim Lacy says:

    Wow. More fascinating history and detailed info about one of my favorite places on the planet from the Professor of Old Hollywood. Ashamed to admit that I did not know the true origin of the word mausoleum…but now I certainly do. Thanks Allan!
    _______________________________
    THANKS JIM. BTW IT WAS A PLEASURE MEETING YOU AND YOUR WIFE AT THE DINNER.

  5. Carol Baker says:

    I was there in Sept. and was wondering what they were doing in the front!! I read somewhere that the apostle statues were originally to be placed in a moseleum for Valentino, when they built one for him. Since where he was placed (here) was suppose to be a temporary place, which since turned permanent.
    ___________________________________
    HI CAROL. THE APOSTLES WERE ORIGINALLY TO BE IN THE BACK LAWN. THEY WERE NEVER MEANT FOR A VALENTINO MEMORIAL. THANKS.

  6. I have to echo what Dear Melissa had to say. This was heaven. This is the one building in which I have spent probably the most time of any cemetery building anywhere in the world. And now I have a new list of folks to visit and research when I am there again. Would love a more detailed story on Theresa Dorris in your future posts. Thanks, Allan, as always!!
    _________________________________
    THANKS STEVE. I’VE DONE SOME RESEARCH ON DORRIS SO I’LL TRY TO WORK SOMETHING UP.

  7. Mark says:

    Lovely and fascinating article, and wonderful pictures! I wonder what happened to the architectural model of “The Court of the Apostles” that used to be in the main hallway, pre-Cassitys?
    _______________________________
    I REMEMBER THAT MODEL. I THINK THEY TOOK IT TO THE MAIN BUILDING BUT NOT SURE IF IT STILL EXISTS.

  8. Louis Mata says:

    Once agian Allan, you amaze me. Thank you for the history lesson.
    __________________________
    THANKS LOUIS!

  9. Rosemary Duff says:

    Absolutely wonderful history. Thanks you!!!!!

  10. Jim Davis says:

    Barbara La Marr lives! Jimmy Bangley would be thrilled that you put her at the top of the list but he probably would have said “but of course she belongs at the top!” in that wonderful accent of his. Thanks for this blog entry – one of your best!
    __________________________
    THANKS JIM. JIMMY WOULD AGREE..

  11. BryanDeanMartin says:

    Very interesting article (as always) but am surprised to see the new work, I was there earlier this year and with no sign of any impending changes…even though I may not like the work being done, its interesting to think what future celebrities may wind up in residency there…and of course, the list of celebrities didn’t include who is possibly my favorite for the mausoleum, the wife of “classic” film director, Edward D Wood Jr…
    ______________________________
    THANKS FOR MENTIONING MRS. WOOD

  12. Scatter says:

    Allan, I hate to sound redundant, but another fascinating article!
    ______________________________
    THANK YOU.

  13. Diane M says:

    Wonderful article but am deeply saddened by the new ‘boxes’ being added to the front. As I have family there I strongly object.

  14. Dona B says:

    Thank you for the interesting article! I visited early this year and loved the original mausoleum, especially having the chance to visit Valentino’s crypt. When I returned in early June I noticed the construction. Don’t really care for the look of it now that it’s finished (thank you for the updated picture!!) but I can’t wait to take a look at the changes on the inside.

  15. Lisa Burks says:

    How did I miss this when it first came out?! I love, love, love your work here, Allan. Remarkable detail. Very informative and entertaining. Thank you so much! Lisa

  16. Loren Rhoads says:

    I visited the mausoleum after the Northridge Quake, when the damage was really awful. I’ve been amazed at how Hollywood Memorial/Hollywood Forever has turned around. Did the construction proceed after you wrote this story?

  17. jim says:

    I always wondered why there were thirteen statues of the Apostles in the foyer of the Mausoleum. Turns out that Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot and, though he was not one of the original twelve, Paul was known as Paul the Apostle.

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