Birth of a
Forest Lawn Memorial-Park
by John F. Llewellyn
Forest Lawn Memorial-Park is certainly the most famous cemetery in California and one of the most famous in the country. It has been praised for its service to the community and parodied in print, TV, and film.
Forest Lawn Cemetery was founded in 1906 in Tropico, California, now part of the city of Glendale. Although other books have covered Forest Lawn’s history, they emphasized the changes Huber Eaton made to transform Forest Lawn Cemetery into Forest Lawn Memorial-Park. The earlier books ignored the challenges that had to be conquered to create this famous institution.
Birth of a Cemetery covers the never-told-before history of Forest Lawn’s early years. It shows the struggles of the early days, the years of conflicts with Hubert Eaton, and how Eaton struggled to make Forest Lawn a viable enterprise.
Forest Lawn is part of the fabric of Los Angeles and the region’s growth and development over the last one-hundred plus years.
David Charles Sloane, Ph.D., Professor Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, and author of The Last Great Necessity and Is the Cemetery Dead? described Birth of a Cemetery on the back cover of the book:
In Birth of a Cemetery, John F. Llewellyn reminds us that even supremely successful enterprises often emerge from chaotic beginnings. Llewellyn’s book is essential reading for cemetery scholars and fans who want the inside story of how modern cemeteries develop, and the challenges they face.
Llewellyn chronicles the mindboggling organizational drama from 1905 until the mid-1920s accompanying the founding of what was first called Forest Lawn Cemetery. While early American cemeteries were founded by faith-based organizations or public entities, by this time, cemeteries had become hybrid institutions, partly non-profit, partly profit. They exemplified the period’s seemingly unlimited, and largely unregulated entrepreneurial spirit.
Forest Lawn also mirrored the booming, racially divided city and suburbs of early 20th century Los Angeles. The cemetery’s founders recognized the opportunity that growth represented, but had trouble settling on a management and sales program that would allow them to fully exploit it. Instead, they squabbled, backbit, and gossiped as they endlessly tried to find a system that would work, and time after time theirs produced more debt than profit . . . .
Eventually, Hubert Eaton would take control, invent his version of the “memorial-park,” and infuse the landscape with the values for which the institution became famous, middle class families, patriotism, and faith. Within a decade, as Llewellyn demonstrates in the final chapters, the newly christened Forest Lawn Memorial-Park would become the model for most cemeteries founded in the US.
When the City of Glendale discovered that Forest Lawn's entry arch encroached on city street right of way, Forest Lawn was forced to move it.