Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, the final resting place of such stars as Rudolph Valentino and Tyrone Power, has become an eyesore of overgrown grass and damaged mausoleums, critics charge.
State officials say it has prompted more complaints in the past five years than any other California cemetery. Relatives of those buried at the 57-acre memorial park complain of vandalism, unkempt grounds and leaky mausoleum roofs."We've averaged about six to eight letters per year and more phone calls than I'd care to recall," said John Gill, executive secretary of the state Cemetery Board, which oversees more than 200 cemeteries.
Last year, heirs of makeup artist Max Factor, who was entombed in 1938, transferred his remains and those of other relatives to another cemetery.
The cemetery, founded in 1899, bears the remains of such stars as Janet Gaynor, Peter Lorre, Tyrone Power, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Rudolph Valentino and director Cecil B. DeMille among its 73,000 graves, crypts and niches. Tourist maps point out the noted resting places.
By law, cemeteries must invest some of their earnings in an endowment care fund and spend the interest for upkeep. Hollywood Memorial had $143,568 in interest last year, according to cemetery board records.
But Gill and others said even twice that much would be insufficient to restore the cemetery's former glamour.
Lack of money is "a universal problem among older cemeteries. Some just happen to be harder hit than others," he said.
Yet Hollywood Memorial remains profitable and has done its best to keep up appearances, said principal owner Jules F. Roth.
"For someone buried here in 1901, $5 went into a perpetual care fund," Roth said. "Now you tell me, how much income can you get from $5? But we still have to take care of that grave. . . . We do the best we can with what we've got."
In 1984, Roth was called before the Cemetery Board to answer complaints about poor maintenance. The board cannot impose sanctions, however.
"It's a disgrace what's happened over there," said Minni Schoenburg, 70, whose parents are buried in the Beth Olam Jewish section of the grounds.
"Eight years ago I was humiliated when we buried my mother and the grass was a foot high around the other graves," she said.
The cemetery has faced other problems recently. Vandals have struck several times, once overturning or desecrating 114 tombstones in one night. A stained glass window was taken from a mausoleum but later recovered, and a woman's head was taken from a crypt and found outside the cemetery. Two men were convicted of desecrating the remains.
Yet for some, the cemetery retains a special ambiance.
"Sure, it may have seen better days, but that antiquated, kind of grown-over feeling you get when you enter is what makes it a storybook kind of place," said Frank Cooper, who conducts an annual tour of the grounds for the Art Deco Society.