Touring Southern California’s Architecture of Death With Historian Nathan Marsak

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Are you a taphophile—fascinated with cemeteries, gravestones and the culture of death and mourning? Join the club, and reserve your spot as Esotouric, L.A.’s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, teams up with Nathan Marsak, America’s wittiest historian of mortuary architecture, for an immersive illustrated lecture on the early cemeteries and innovative mausoleum designs of Southern California.

We’ll begin the program with rare photographs and some fascinating stories about City Cemetery and Old Calvary, two of the earliest American burial grounds in the historic heart of Los Angeles. As the city grew, the cemeteries were relocated, leaving tantalizing traces of how death and life were once entwined around Olvera Street.

From these lesser known mid-19th century graveyards, we’ll fast forward to the 1910s, when new ideas in hygiene, architecture and civic pride shaped the development of a different kind of memorial landscape: the community mausoleum.

These public burial vaults reflected a burgeoning modernism: they were, in effect, early multifamily housing constructed of steel-reinforced concrete, built in a functional and spare style intended to connote solemnity, but to also provide the necessary hygienic element. Just as pioneers of concrete residential architecture worked to make their structures fireproof, durable and sanitary, so did the builders of mausolea; modernist masters like Irving Gill would similarly obsess over hygienic concerns of drainage and ventilation. But unlike private homes, public mausolea were meant to evoke a peaceful eternity, represented through exquisite use of stained glass.

Through vintage and contemporary photos, we’ll virtually explore the compelling histories of three significant structures, erected over just four years:

  • Community Mausoleum, Anaheim Cemetery (architect Charles E. Shattuck, 1914)

  • Inglewood Mausoleum, Inglewood Cemetery (architects Buchanan & Brockway, 1915)

  • Hollywood Mausoleum, Hollywood Cemetery now called Hollywood Forever (architects Marston & Van Pelt, 1918)

This webinar is an illustrated lecture packed with rare photos that will bring cemetery history to life on your digital device. And you’ll find the look of an Esotouric webinar is a little different than your standard dry Zoom session, with lively interactive graphics courtesy of the mmhmm app.

After the presentation, Nathan, Kim and Richard will answer your questions, so get ready to be a part of the show.

About Nathan Marsak: Nathan is the author of the books Bunker Hill Los Angeles: Essence of Sunshine and Noir, Los Angeles Neon Bunker Noir!, and can be found spitting tacks in the character of The Cranky Preservationist. You can find him online at his blogs, Bunker Hill Los Angeles, RIP Los Angeles, and the On Bunker Hill Project.

Also joining us to tell the story of the early burials alongside the Plaza Church, and their recent desecration, is Steven W. Hackel, Professor of History at the University of California, Riverside and the author of Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father, Alta California , and Children of Coyote.


About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one another on sight. (Perhaps less inexplicably, their academic advisor believed they were soul mates). A chance meeting 18 years later proved much more agreeable. Richard wooed Kim with high level library database access, with which she launched the 1947project true crime blog, highlighting a crime a day from the year of The Black Dahlia and Bugsy Siegel slayings. The popular blog’s readers demanded a tour, and then another. The tour was magical, a hothouse inspiring new ways for the by-then-newlyweds to tell the story of Los Angeles. Esotouric was born in 2007 with a calendar packed with true crime, literary, architecture and rock and roll tours. Ever since, it has provided a platform for promoting historic preservation issues (like the Save the 76 Ball campaign and the landmarking of Charles Bukowski’s bungalow), building a community of urban explorers (including dozens of free talks and tours under the umbrella of LAVA) and digging even deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.

Rights and permissions: By attending an Esotouric webinar, you acknowledge that the entirety of the presentation is copyrighted, and no portion of the video or text may be reproduced in any fashion.

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