One doesn’t expect to find collections of classic motorcycles in a graveyard.
But the Forest Lawn Museum, at the memorial park's Glendale location, is hosting one from now until Jan. 4.
“Vroom: The Art of the Motorcycle” features a handsome grouping of rare and seldom-seen machines, many of them a century old and all owned by Southern California collectors.
The collection — co-curated by Forest Lawn's museum director, Joan P. Adan, and local motorcycle historian and collector John Parker — includes a mint-condition 1910 Flying Merkel and a 1914 Harley-Davidson V-twin, and unusual race bikes like a 1968 ESO speedway motorcycle and a 1938 Indian flat-track racer.
Also currently on hand — some motorcycles will rotate out as others rotate in — are Steve McQueen's custom-painted, Galoise-blue 1939 Indian Chief and a rare 1938 Crocker once owned by former Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler.
“Motorcycles in a cemetery!” Parker said, admiring the exhibit. “Isn't it awesome?”
The exhibition also features an esoteric collection of motorcycle-themed art, including hand-painted gas tanks, black-and-white cartoons, poster art and sculptures.
Harley-Davidson's official sculptor, Jeff Decker, is represented by several stunning pieces — like Frederic Remington's cowboy sculptures, but on motorcycles — as is Harley's official painter, Tom Fritz, with multiple racing action canvasses. Designer Troy Lee is represented by a collection of custom-painted motorcycle helmets. The show also features gorgeous custom gas tanks by artists Pete “Hot Dog” Finlan and Sara Ray.
Forest Lawn has had a museum at the Glendale property for more than 50 years, Adan said, though it only began featuring themed exhibitions about a decade ago.
Previous shows have included the 2013-14 “L.A. Woman,” a look at 24 female artists who have had a strong influence on the region’s art scene, and the popular 2008-09 collection known as “In Search of Tiki,” a study of South Pacific tiki culture.
One of the museum’s rooms will continue to display some of Forest Lawn’s statue collections in a back room for the duration of the exhibition, while “Vroom” dominates the front.
The gift shop area will be equally mixed. Caps designed by Lee and sweaters bearing the North Los Angeles Motorcycle Club badge are on shelves alongside traditional Forest Lawn items such as coffee mugs with scenes from the crucifixion or the Last Supper.
“It's a little weird, but it's not morbid. Death is part of life for motorcyclists,” said Parker, who spent some of his formative years working for veteran motorcycle racer and stuntman Bud Ekins.
Ekins was a close friend of McQueen’s and is credited as the man who actually performed the famous over-the-fence motorcycle jump in the movie “The Great Escape.”
Parker also worked for famed pin-striper Von Dutch, whose 1953 Moto Guzzi is part of the “Vroom” show.
Formerly active as a racer, and now a race team sponsor and race promoter, Parker knew many of the owners of the bikes on exhibition — some of which, from private collections around the city, haven't been on public display in decades. Several were lent by owners who declined to be named and are identified on their machines only as “Anonymous Donor.”
“I had to call in some favors,” Parker said.
The exhibition space is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking and admission are free.