December 30, 2016

Photo Essay: Stepping Through a Portal of Peace

What happens to us when we die? No one really knows for sure.

When we "transition," do we shed this mortal coil while our soul lives on—either here, or in the ether?

Is there an afterlife? An eternal life? Another life?

Do we become restless and homeless, lingering around our favorite spots or trying to enact some kind of retribution for how we ultimately fell?

To be honest, I hope none of it is true. I really hope everything just stops when we die. I'm exhausted.

But I suspect that's not the case, considering how haunted my life has been.

Whatever happens in those final moments after our ultimate demise, there's only one thing we can really hope for—and that's peace.

It's fitting, then, that a mausoleum should be called El Portal de la Paz—that is, the Gateway or Doorway of Peace. Whether dying is, in essence, stepping through a portal from this world to the next or this world to no world, let it be, at least, a peaceful transition.

This mausoleum (the second at the largest cemetery in the U.S., Rose Hills) was intentionally built in the 1930s to look like one of the Spanish missions that dotted the California coast.

Sure, "Mission Revival" was an architectural craze at the time (thanks, in part, to the Panama-California Exposition), but it serves a real purpose here.

No matter where you're interred—in the ground or in a drawer in the wall—you're not alone.

You're not "locked in," per se—as you would be in a more traditional mausoleum without that open courtyard—but you're still somewhat protected.

It feels something like a military fort in a time of peace.

Inside, the marble hallways are named after the Spanish missions—San Buenaventura, and so on...

...but with all those stained glass skylights, it evokes the same feeling of being outside, yet protected.

How rare it is to see natural light among the dead.

In fact, you're surrounded on all sides by light, prismatic as it's filtered through the monumental stained glass windows at the terminus of three different hallways, rising 12 feet tall by 10 feet wide.

All three were crafted by LA's own Judson Studios: Dawn (circa 1938), Life Eternal (circa 1953)...

...and Christ and the Children (circa 1959).

After all, what could be more peaceful that being surrounded by lambs...

...and a pink dove?

The art elsewhere inside the mausoleum is equally as incredible—including ceilings hand-painted in the 1950s by the Heinsbergen Decorating Company (also known for its work on other Southern California landmarks like LA's City Hall, Bullocks Wilshire, Griffith Observatory, the Fine Arts Building, and the Tower, Fox Fullerton, and United Artists theatres).

Mosaic tiles, Art Deco decorative tiles, and fountains beckon the living down each corridor, even if they're not visiting the dead.

The construction of El Portal de la Paz was part of the initial expansion of Rose Hills in the 1930s, which is largely credited to its founder's son, John D. Gregg. Appropriately, he's got his own gated area in the mausoleum, where he's been interred alongside his wife Lucela, his sister Leora, and other relatives in the Gregg family room.

Does he know that he's buried in this beautiful place?

Something tells me it's OK if he doesn't, because it's not so much for him. It's more for those he left behind.

They're probably the ones that need peace the most.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Locked Chapels of Rose Hills
Photo Essay: Mountain View Mausoleum, Daytime
Photo Essay: Mountain View Mausoleum, Day into Night
Photo Essay: Stained Glass Crawl Through a Cathedral Crypt

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