Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Valhalla Memorial Park

Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery is located at 10621 Victory Blvd. in North Hollywood, CA

The cemetery has a special section called the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation, which is the final resting place for some aviation pioneers, including barnstormers, daredevils and architects of aviation.  There is a memorial to Amelia Earhart and others,

The shrine was originally built as an impressive entrance to Valhalla Memorial Park cemetery.  It was named for the palace Odin, the Norse god of slain heroes.

Valhalla was founded in 1923 by John R. Osborne and C.C. Fitzpatrick, who were Los Angeles financiers.  The Spanish Mission Revival entrance structure was designed by Kenneth McDonald Jr. For the decorative stone castings, McDonald hired an Italian born sculptor Federico A. Giorgi, who had created 30 foot tall statues of elephants and lions for the 1917 film called "Intolerance" and crafted the exterior of downtown's Million Dollar theater.  The gateway to the new cemetery cost $140,000.  The rotunda was dedicated on March 1, 1925, with a concert by English contralto Maude Elliott.  It became a tourist attraction and was used for concerts that were broadcast over radio station KELW by station owner Earl L. White.  About five months after the dedication, Osborne and Fitzpatrick were convicted of fraud.  They had sold the same burial plots repeatedly.  Some had been sold as many as 16 times and the two needed a profit of $3-$4 million, per the Los Angeles Times.  The two were fined $12,000 each and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but served less than half the sentence.  The cemetery was taken over by the state and it is unclear how long the state owned the 63 acre cemetery, but Pierce Brothers bought it in 1950 and within two years, closed the rotunda to vehicle traffic and move the entry to the cemetery from Valhalla Driven Burbank to Victory and Cahuenga Blvds. in North Hollywood.  There, they opened a two story office and mortuary.

On December 17, 1953, the rotunda was rededicated as the Portal of the Folded Wings, through the efforts of aviation fan and cemetery employee James Gillette.  During the ceremony, the cremated remains of Walter R. Brookins were interred there.  Brookings was the first aviator to take a plane to an altitude of a mile and had been the Wright brothers' first civilian student.

When sculptor Giorgi died in 1963, he was buried outside the structure, near his masterpiece.  Gillette  was also buried outside near the shrine he helped found.

In 1958,  Pierce Brothers sold its family-owned chain of Southern California mortuaries and cemeteries to Joe Allbritton, a Texas financier, who sold off 20 acres of Valhalla for development.  In 1991, the cemeteries and mortuaries were acquired by Service Corp. International in Houston, but the Pierce Brothers sign remains at Valhalla.

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