Saturday, April 03, 2010

Hollywood's Most Unusual Masonic Lodge


It's curious the way the Internet can take you on a fascinating chase.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles is interesting on many levels. Founded in 1899, and originally known as Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, it was an important, if sometimes reviled, part of the village of Hollywoodland. Soon after its founding, area residents believed it stood in the way of Hollywood's development, and was a "hindrance to the civic progress and welfare of the community." Paramount Studios and RKO Studios were built on the back half of the original cemetery grounds, where they still stand today (RKO became Desilu Studios, owned by Desi Arnaz—I Love Lucy was shot there, along with the original Star Trek series, before Lucy and Desi sold out to sprawling neighbor Paramount in the late 1960s).

The cemetery is the eternal home to some of Hollywood's most glittering names: Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, Douglas Fairbanks, Mel Blanc, Victor Fleming, Nelson Eddy, John Huston, Paramount founder Jesse Lasky, Paul Muni, Tyrone Power, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Clifton Webb, Fay Wray, Vampira, and even gangster glamor boy Bugsy Siegel.

But one of the most unusual aspects of the cemetery is that it is also home to what was once a Masonic lodge.

Bankers Masonic Club was formed in Los Angeles on July 3, 1924, and in 1925 received a charter from the Grand Lodge of California F&AM as Southland Lodge No. 617. In 1931, Southland Lodge moved into the group of Spanish Renaissance Revival buildings that stands at what was once the main gate of Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery. They richly decked it out in Spanish style, with dark wood beams and wrought iron fixtures.

Southland Lodge moved out in the 1960s. Southland Lodge No. 618 and Heritage Lodge No. 764 consolidated on July 1, 1979 to form Southland Heritage Lodge No. 618. Eleven years later, Southland heritage consolidated with Magnolia Park Lodge No. 715 to form Magnolia Park Lodge No. 618. Today, they meet in Burbank at 406 Irving Drive.

But the old Masonic lodge still stands at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and is open for public events.


(Photos from Citybuilt.org blog)

Note the illuminated Order of the Eastern Star fixture that remains.

In the late 1940s, as the cemetery’s glamour faded, like so much else in Los Angeles, everyone headed for the suburban sprawl of the Valley, and the stars sought eternal refuge in Glendale's newer Forest Lawn Memorial Park (read Evelyn Waugh's "The Loved One" for a dark and hilarious sendup of Forest Lawn). In the 1930s, neighbors complained that Hollywood Memorial Park's tombstones were an eyesore, so a cinder block wall was erected, and then topped with barbed wire in the 70s. The 1994 Northridge earthquake was the final straw, and left the place with potholed roads, stagnant ponds, open crypts, and rain-soaked murals. The owners eventually went bankrupt, and state officials took it over in 1996.

In 1998, 27-year old Tyler Cassity from St. Louis purchased the property for $375,000, renamed it Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and began renovations. Since then, they have conducted regular celebrity gravesite tours (featuring a "Lady In Black" of Valentino fame), and brought the public in with blankets and lawn chairs for movies projected on the exterior wall of the old Masonic lodge. The Masonic lodge at Hollywood Forever has become home to concerts, theatre shows, weddings, and even a regular standup comedy program ("Comedy Is Dead!").

Cassity has re-landscaped the property and re-opened beautiful, long forgotten crypts and halls, with their murals, vaulted ceilings, and stained glass windows. In May of 2000 the cemetery was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

And in case you want to hobnob with movie stars in the afterlife, there's still plenty of room.

1 comment:

Chris Nickens said...

Hi Mr. Hodapp:

Thank you so much for researching and posting this history. I have lived in Hollywood for most of my life and had no idea this venue existed until last night when I attended the screening of a documentary there. It is a gorgeous space, and I became naturally curious about its history, wihch I know know about!

Chris Nickens