Monday, November 28, 2011

Al Jolson Monument Mosaic

Today's mosaic is at Hillside Memorial Park, right off the 405 in Culver City.

If I had a dime for every driver since 1951 who nodded to the rotunda and waterfall and said, "That's where Al Jolson is buried," I'd probably have close to the $84,000 released from the estate to build the memorial itself.

Al Jolson died unexpectedly. Although he was in his 60s, he'd recently married a pretty young wife. They'd adopted a little boy, Asa, and were in the process of adopting baby Alecia when he passed. His career was on the upswing again--of that, he said, “This was no come-back, I just couldn’t get a job.”

Jolson left a million-dollar trust fund to his widow, half a mil to each of the babies, and the rest of his estate went to charities.

He actually did not provide for the memorial himself. His widow hired an attorney to petition the courts to release the money to build the pillared rotunda with its mosaic (which you can only see while standing underneath and looking up), the sarcophagus, and the statue. That was $75,000, and the land--purchased from the cemetery, was another $9000.

Hillside agreed to build the 120-ft cascade of water and the pool at their own expense. Apparently the plans were all made between the time Jolson died, in October 1950, and the court approval, February 1951. The memorial was dedicated that September, and Jack Benny read a eulogy.

Do not know who the mosaic artist was, but the cracks in the mosaic are real. They show up in my photos, and in others around the internet.

This last picture is from Hillside's own website, and I guess I could include the waterfall as a mosaic as well. The entire memorial was designed by Paul R. Williams.
You can see more photos of the monument here, at the Al Jolson Memorial Shrine Page of the Paul Williams Project.

Williams designed many famous LA buildings: The Beverly Hills Hotel, the Beverly Wilshire, First AME Church, Golden State Mutual Life Insurance, buildings at UCLA, and hundreds of homes. He was known as "the architect to the stars."

Paul Williams was brought into the Jolson project because Hillside was already in discussions with him about their proposed mausoleum--which Williams designed the same year. Harry Groman, one of the owners of Hillside, felt that Williams not only had the experience, but shared his aesthetic sense of what the mausoleum should be: a place full of natural light and gentle curves, where contemplation was encouraged.

It really is a beautiful place, and everyone should go see it. It strikes me that most of us never take advantage of the fact that cemeteries offer free parking and access to some of the most beautiful and serene landscapes around. Walking around the mausoleum to look for celebrity graves is fun, but just sitting there and enjoying the peaceful solitude is reason enough to visit.

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