Column: Exclusive West L.A. property, surrounded by stars, on sale for $745,000. Are you dying to move in?
What if I were to tell you that an exclusive piece of real estate is available on L.A.’s Westside, right next door to a couple of the biggest names in entertainment history. And you can pick it up at the recently discounted price of $745,000?
You’d be curious about it, right?
Well, I’m not exaggerating about the location or the price, but there’s a catch.
OK, I’m talking about a cemetery plot, so you wouldn’t be able to move in until you’re dead.
“Be buried adjacent to Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Hefner,” said an ad that ran in the L.A. Times a couple of weeks ago. “The last prominent bench estate location in Westwood Village Memorial Park. Accommodates four people.”
A friend spotted the ad and sent it my way, and I figured I’d check it out just to have a break from the COVID-19 beat. Not that this is the cheeriest of topics, either.
The first thing that occurred to me was that in L.A. County, where the median home price is about $650,000, the Westside is out of reach even in death. And then I wondered whether people buy and flip burial sites in L.A. the way they flip houses. If it’s happening anywhere, it would be happening here.
I called the number in the advertisement and a gent named John Thill answered the phone in Florida, where he now lives. Thill, 66, writes textbooks in the business field. He told me he has lived in Los Angeles and San Diego, and that one of his favorite Marilyn Monroe movies was “Some Like It Hot,” which was filmed at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego.
Thill said he wasn’t thinking of the burial site as a buy-and-flip investment, but as an interesting place to spend eternity.
“I wanted to be next to Marilyn,” said Thill, who was single at the time but has since married.
In 2017, when Playboy magnate Hefner died and moved into the crypt next to his first Playmate of the Month, that little corner of the cemetery became all the more of a destination for tourists. Lipstick imprints are visible on the face of both crypts, left there by visitors.
Call me unsentimental or unromantic or something, but I figure when you’re dead, you’re dead, and it doesn’t make much of a difference who’s next door. But Thill has a broader concept of death than I do.
“I think there’ll be a resurrection day when everyone’s joined,” Thill said, and he wouldn’t mind being an arm’s length from Monroe. “I’m not sure how it will work, exactly.”
And there might be more luminaries at the party. Buried in that same cemetery are Dean Martin, Frank Zappa, Eva Gabor, Natalie Wood, Rodney Dangerfield, Ray Bradbury, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Burt Lancaster, Truman Capote, Carroll O’Connor, Kirk Douglas, Donna Reed, Mel Torme and Billy Wilder, whose gravestone says, “I’m a writer but then nobody’s perfect.”
Now that Thill’s in Florida, he told me, the plot lost some of its appeal. He first listed it last year at $790,000 and then dropped the price recently. He’s gotten several nibbles, and said he stands to make “a little money” if he can sell near the list price.
When I got to the cemetery Tuesday, I had trouble locating Thill’s plot, but a woman named Marsha Ebert — shielding herself from the hot sun with a pink umbrella — was visiting her parents’ gravesite and kindly showed me where Monroe and Hefner are buried. She took off her mask only when I asked to photograph her.
Not everyone in the park is a celebrity, Ebert said, and her parents are buried in “very cheap plots.” The space owned by Thill, located several feet from the celebrities, is called a bench estate because there’s a bench next to a space big enough to accommodate four people.
It’s a lovely space, but I’m not sure I’d want to be underground there, with endless hordes of strangers tramping over my head to go kiss Marilyn Monroe’s crypt.
I asked Ebert to guess how much the plot was listed for.
“A thousand dollars?” she said.
Yes. Times 745.
“That’s beyond my pocketbook,” said Ebert.
Brooke Covington, an Alabama resident, took a good look at the Monroe and Hefner crypts and checked those names off her list. She also wanted to see the final resting places of actresses Dominique Dunne and Heather O’Rourke, both of “Poltergeist” fame, “because I’m a huge horror movie fan.”
Covington said she’s a respiratory therapist who came to Los Angeles to work on COVID-19 patients at St. Vincent’s Hospital, but she was about to return home and wanted to do some sightseeing first.
“I’m going to a lot of cemeteries because they’re the only thing open,” she said, keeping a safe social distance.
I asked whether she was interested in buying a plot.
“I don’t really plan on being in a cemetery when I go. I want to be laid into a coral reef,” Covington said.
I didn’t know that was a thing, but apparently your cremated remains can be mixed into a concrete sphere and dropped into the ocean to support coral life.
That’s relatively inexpensive, but if you want your eternal resting place to be a little more prestigious, Westwood Village Memorial Park — like Los Angeles — has both high and low rent districts.
“We have items for sale at a lesser price,” said Steve Quach, who works for Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary. “Some of them are near other stars and it depends on who’s important to you. To give an example, if I was a Don Knotts fan and I wanted to be near Don Knotts … we have a cremation pedestal available there.”
The space would accommodate four urns and would be in the $200,000 range, Quach said.
I’m a little surprised that Knotts, who played Barney Fife in “The Andy Griffith Show” and starred in “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” about a man who turns into a talking fish, didn’t go for the coral reef burial instead.
Across the way from Monroe and Hefner is a section called Garden of Serenity, where you can find George C. Scott, Walter Matthau, Peggy Lee, Les Brown and Brian Keith.
And Ray Bradbury.
The author of “Fahrenheit 451” is buried next to his wife, Maggie. If I were to end up in that cemetery, that’s where I’d want to be, so I asked Quach if he had anything near the author.
“The nearest to him is one single lot, opposite of Walter Matthau, for $209,000,” Quach said, but I’d need more than one space.
“Within that same garden, in back of Rodney Dangerfield, I have a double for $307,000,” Quach said.
I’ll keep that in mind if I hit the lottery one day, but even then, I might prefer sleeping with the fishes on the coral reef.
I’m not sure it matters one way or another, because as Marilyn Monroe once said, “It’s all make believe, isn’t it?”
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