With his love of old-time Hollywood glamour, showy art and showmanship, Michael Jackson would probably have welcomed his family's announcement Tuesday that his remains will be interred in the star-laden, sculpture-speckled confines of Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale.
Jackson will be interred Aug. 29, which would have been his 51st birthday, in an intimate morning service for family and friends in the expansive cemetery's Great Mausoleum, according to a statement from the family publicist. The pop singer's remains will be placed in a crypt in the Holly Terrace section of the mausoleum, a massive building that is the final resting place for stars from film's golden age, such as Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.
Jackson, who spent lavishly on antiques and fancy reproductions, is to be placed in an area decorated by sculptures and bronzes of American icons, including George Washington, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt on a property that has replicas of Michelangelo statues and a stained glass window depicting the "Last Supper."
The funeral announcement capped two months of rumors that began even before Jackson's gold-plated casket was rolled into Staples Center on July 7 for a televised memorial. That day began with a service at Forest Lawn but ended without a burial or interment. One report had his body stored in a crypt owned by Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., and there was widespread speculation that an elaborate grave -- and ultimately, a Graceland-style museum -- would be constructed at the entertainer's Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County.
But Jackson's family, led by his 79-year-old mother, Katherine, selected Forest Lawn, a 20-minute trip across the San Fernando Valley from their Encino home. Neither a cemetery spokesman nor the Jacksons' publicist would comment on the reasons for their choice.
In choosing Forest Lawn, Jackson's family opted for a place with the over-the-top qualities that the pop star loved in life and the privacy guarantees that eluded him. The 103-year-old property's 290 acres straddle the border of Glendale and Los Angeles. It changed the design of cemeteries by re-imagining them as park-like outdoor museums with rolling hills dotted by inspiring statues and uninterrupted by upright gravestones.
Outlining this new approach in 1917, Forest Lawn's general manager, Hubert Eaton, wrote of a "great park . . . devoid of misshapen monuments and other customary signs of earthly death, but filled with towering trees, sweeping lawns, splashing fountains, singing birds, beautiful statuary, cheerful flowers, noble memorial architecture with interiors full of light and color, and redolent of the world's best history and romances."
Sorrow and mourning were to be replaced by frolicking schoolchildren and strolling lovers. The cemetery's nondenominational chapels -- modeled on churches in Scotland and England -- have hosted 70,000 weddings, and its eclectic artwork, a collection that manages to accommodate "the world's largest black opal," "the world's largest religious painting" and a giant stone head from Easter Island -- once made it Southern California's largest tourist attraction.
But Forest Lawn also zealously guards the privacy of those buried there. Staffers do not reveal the grave locations of celebrities, and those taking photos, making too much noise or leading tours of famous graves are quickly ushered off the property.
"It's not an amusement park," said William Martin, the cemetery's communications director.
"They protect celebrities like the Dead Sea Scrolls," said Scott Michaels, the owner of Dearly Departed Tours, which escorts tourists to famous L.A. death sites. Michaels does not bring tours to Forest Lawn but visits often on his own to see the final resting places of W.C. Fields, Lon Chaney and Chico Marx among others. He said he had been thrown out half a dozen times.
"The Great Mausoleum where he is going is like the Holy Grail of grave hunters. It's the most difficult to navigate. The rooms are like mazes, almost like an Escher drawing. There are cameras all throughout it, and if you are just wandering about, they will find you and kick you out," he said.
Glendale authorities met with cemetery officials Tuesday afternoon and said street closings were likely, but they did not anticipate crowd control issues or other major problems despite Jackson's global fame and legions of fans.
"I expect a minimal intrusion on the city and on our police services," said Mayor Pro-Tem Frank Quintero. "All we need to do is provide police services for traffic control. That's it."
Sgt. Tom Lorenz of the Glendale Police Department said the funeral was on private property and not open to the public. Glendale officials plan to strongly discourage anyone not invited to the funeral from trying to attend, he said.
"We believe we will be able to manage this event and provide the family with a peaceful service," Lorenz said. The family will bear the cost of additional police patrols, he said.