A couple of days ago a friend asked me about Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary as her uncle was about to be interred there. I realized that another friend and I had toured the park several months earlier and that I had taken some photos but never had the time to write about the experience.
The cities of Los Angeles and Culver City share a border that often overlaps and it can be confusing trying to figure out if an address is actually in LA or Culver City. The location of Hillside Memorial is one of those instances. It is within the borders of Culver City but is assigned a Los Angeles zip code (90045). Although I don’t suppose any of the inhabitants are concerned about that.
My friend (a fellow ceramic artist) and I visited the cemetery in June, 2011, mostly because she was interested in seeing the mural by Kent Twitchell. But we also wanted to walk around the grounds.
The park can be spotted easily from the 405 freeway. In all the years I have been driving past, it was only about two years ago that I learned the gazebo jutting up from the hillside was actually the memorial to Al Jolson. I realize everybody else in the universe already knew that, but I don’t suppose I really paid attention to it before.
During the previous week, unable to sleep one night, I turned on the TV and in the wee hours of the morning a local station was running both biographical movies about the singer, The Jolson Story (1946) and Jolson Sings Again (1949) which I had never seen before. So it was serendipity that I should be visiting his gravesite at that point in time.
We climbed up the hill alongside the waterfall that runs from the gazebo down to street level. It was a gorgeous day and there is a nice view of the grounds from the top.
Besides Al Jolson, many other celebrities found their last resting place at the cemetery. Hillside provides a list of “distinguished residents” including Jack Benny, Milton Berle and Moe Howard (of the Three Stooges).
I don’t know how many acres the park covers, but as you can see, if you download this map, it is quite extensive with enough roads and pathways for a good workout. Like the other cemetery in Culver City, the Catholic Holy Cross, the headstones are vertical in the ground rather than upright. This allows uncluttered vistas and gives the illusion of walking around a golf course, not a cemetery.
However, it is fun to look down at the plaques in the grass (or on the walls of the mausoleum) to discover a famous or familiar name. I know some people who will not venture into a cemetery for fear of pushing their luck. But I enjoy the peace and beauty encountered in such places. I have no problem with the inevitability that my turn will come soon enough… although I prefer my ashes to be sprinkled in some favorite place where I can spend eternity as free as the wind, rather than trapped in a box.
(photos copyright roslyn m wilkins)