Space Shuttle Memorial.

Portal of the Folded Wings, Space Shuttle Memorial

Field review by the editors.

North Hollywood, California

Backed against the far side of Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery stands a towering stone and marble quadruple arch, a gaudy mash-up of Spanish mission, Rococo, and Beaux Arts architecture with a dome stuck on top. It was built in 1924 as the Valhalla Memorial Rotunda, and stood at what was then the entrance to the cemetery (cars would drive under it from Valhalla Drive, now a dead-end street). Sculptor Federico Giorgi was evidently so pleased with the thing that he had himself buried only a few feet away from it.

Portal of the Folded Wings.

For its first few years, the Rotunda was the site of musical concerts and other cemetery social events. That ended in 1930 with the opening of United Airport (now Bob Hope Airport) across the street. Planes roaring barely overhead from Runway 15 were not compatible with hobnobbing and music.

They were, however, perfectly in sync with a memorial to flight, so in 1953 the rotunda was rechristened The Portal of the Folded Wings, "dedicated to the honored dead of American Aviation." The slate floor directly underneath the arch, formerly a roadway, was turned into an elite graveyard. It now shelters the remains of flight notables such as Roy Knabenshue, who flew America's first dirigible, and Carl Squier, "the world's greatest airplane salesman" according to his plaque. Of local note is Hilder Smith, "The first lady pilot to fly an airplane out of the bean patch that later became the L.A. International Airport."

Columbia Crew plaque.

In 2007 the Portal was joined by a more modern, just as impressive, companion: a 21-foot-long model of the Space Shuttle (It's big, but not as big as the real thing, which is 122 feet long). Mounted atop some poles, nose up, landing gear down (you can spin the rubber tires), it's positioned as if it's about to land in the cemetery -- because it's a memorial to the crews of the doomed Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia. The insignia for Columbia is painted on its left side, the Challenger on its right. Plaques in the lawn directly below the insignia portray the seven astronauts who perished in their respective spacecraft. The crewmembers aren't buried with the other aviation stars at the Portal, but the Shuttle model serves as their cenotaph.

In keeping with the Rotunda's theme of rebirth, the Space Shuttle memorial is also an example of creative recycling. It is, in fact, a former Hollywood movie prop, used in the ridiculous 2003 sci-fi disaster film The Core, where it played the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Also see: Valhalla Memorial Park | The Amazing Criswell

Portal of the Folded Wings, Space Shuttle Memorial

Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park

Address:
10621 Victory Blvd, North Hollywood, CA
Directions:
Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park. Victory Blvd to Cahuenga Blvd and cemetery entrance. The Memorial is on the northeast side of the cemetery, where the old entrance gate was, at the now dead-end of W. Valhalla Drive.
Phone:
818-763-9121
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

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Grave of Criswell, Hollywood PrognosticatorGrave of Criswell, Hollywood Prognosticator, North Hollywood, CA - < 1 mi.
Columbia, Challenger, and Criswell in ValhallaColumbia, Challenger, and Criswell in Valhalla, North Hollywood, CA - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Bunny Museum, Pasadena, CA - 14 mi.

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November 22, 2014

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