An arresting vision sits along a postcard stretch of Palos Verdes Drive
Recognizing that a lone buoy wasn’t adequately warding ships off Palos Verdes Peninsula, in 1926 the U.S. government constructed Point Vicente Lighthouse. Since then, the South Bay landmark has been visited by the likes of Lana Turner in 1941 and featured in films such as 2001’s Pearl Harbor.
Taking a shine to the lighthouse is easy. Linger in the adjacent grassy park for a closer look, or stop by the second Saturday of each month to climb to the top, where you’ll find an 1886 Fresnel Lens shooting light across a 20-plus mile span of blue Pacific. Brilliant.
31550 Palos Verdes Drive West, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90274
Reflections on the Annenberg Community Beach House
WRITTEN BY JENN THORNTON
The pool deck at the Annenberg Community Beach House is the very epitome of history repeating itself, with its dark green Vermont marble, diamonds embedded in concrete and a marbled Greek key design mimicking an identical motif at William Randolph Hearst’s namesake spread in San Simeon. This vestige of a once rambling Georgian Revival estate that the media titan bankrolled for his mistress, Marion Davies, recalls the heady era of old Hollywood, when the couple’s elaborate feats of entertaining beckoned boldfaced names of the day.
But while Hearst Castle is an icon frozen in time, the Annenberg Community Beach House is a study in progress. This is a place of many incarnations, shares Santa Monica Conservancy Program Chair Ruthann Lehrer of the lavish manse turned boutique hotel. As the Oceanhouse, it operated from 1949 to 1956, but proved too costly an extravagance in the age of roadside motels and downtown hotels, and was acquired by the State of California. Obtained for beach purposes, down came the mansion in a 1957 demolition, with its beach cabanas, initially built in 1949 as an accessory to the hotel, morphing into the Sand & Sea Club—and by bunking at the Guest House, the Club’s manager ensured its survival.(Today this original estate holdover is a protected Santa Monica landmark.)
For three decades prominent families flocked to the Sand & Sea Club, with a member of one such clan, philanthropist Wallis Annenberg, playing an integral role in resuscitating the 5-acre site, its structures having sustained massive damage during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Annenberg loved [this] particular stretch of Santa Monica Beach, explains Lehrer, who also chairs the Docent Program at the Beach House. She saw it as a very special place, but her wish was for it to be open and accessible to everyone, not restricted in membership as the beach clubs were.
Five years and a $27.5 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation later, and the Beach House—now in the clutches of the City of Santa Monica—re-opened in April 2009. The original pool and Guest House are the site’s only historic anchors, but the project architects included other markers to recall that historical era, shares Lehrer of what includes the boardwalk located at the mean high tide line from the Davies’ years; a section of the original beach wall bulkhead reconstructed outside the Guest House; and 16 geometric columns outside the Pool House evoking the architectural columns of the mansion’s façade.
With its roots in the past, the Beach House is now bounding toward the future. Today, the community jewel offers a full spectrum of outdoor recreation, cultural offerings and up-to-the-minute amenities. It’s a very civilized way to visit Santa Monica Beach! says Lehrer.
Some things never change.
Although the final resting place for Hollywood’s elite, whether it be matinee idol Rudolph Valentino, director Cecil B. DeMille or civic leader Charles Toberman, Hollywood Forever Cemetery is also the place where history comes alive.
Motivated to help develop what was then little more than an agrarian burg, all fields and citrus groves, the formerly named Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery was founded in 1899. Now in its second century, and a renaissance of sorts, this Los Angeles treasure boasts approximately 60 acres; seven mausoleums; two chapels; one crematory; an administration building and a monument production studio. And, in the park’s southwest sector, is a whole other burial ground in Beth Olam, one of the oldest dedicated Jewish cemeteries in Southern California.
If all sounds grand, like a vast English estate, “The cemetery’s landscaping was designed to create the atmosphere of a true park, rather than a mere grid of graves,” explains Family Service Counselor Theodore Hovey of the magnificent architecture, wonderfully weathered edifices and verdant growth here. “The buildings are in various styles. The Cathedral Mausoleum is Italian Renaissance, while the administration building is Spanish Baroque. The extraordinary private mausoleum of William Andrews Clark, Jr. and his family on the island in the lake is classical. Many of the other private family mausoleums are Egyptian Revival,” a popular aesthetic in the early 20th century due to significant archeological finds of the time, with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb a fixture in the public’s imagination.
The years were not always just to Hollywood Memorial, however, with the park eventually sinking into disrepair, neglect, and even controversy. Segregated until 1959, for example, it refused eternal rest for Gone with the Wind Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel until current ownership rectified the slight with a lakeside cenotaph to honor the trailblazing actress on the 47th anniversary of her death. This is one of many improvements present possessor Tyler Cassity plotted under his watch, which began in 1998, having rescued and rechristened the on-the-brink-of-bankruptcy burial ground. Hence prosperity and popularity for the newly minted Hollywood Forever, which, along with hosting ongoing restoration projects and new builds, acts as a kind of cradle of culture, welcoming a bevy of events year-round.
Emerging from the latter category is, of course, the open-air film series Cinespia. Held on the Fairbanks Lawn, an open, undeveloped expanse of grass behind the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr. memorial, the event, describes Hovey, is “an expression of the cemetery’s indelible relationship with the film industry.”
Currently interring more than 90,000 souls, with room for plenty more—a 100 years worth, according to Hovey—Hollywood Forever is more than a local landmark; “it’s a place of great reverence” whose physical beauty and historic residents continue to stir interest in visitors from all over the world.
All leaves little doubt that some things really do live forever.