The Portal of the Folded Wings is an aviation memorial at a cemetery in Burbank, California.

The Portal of the Folded Wings memorial
Photo: Logan Bush /

Located at the entrance of a cemetery in Los Angeles is a 75-foot tall marble shrine called “The Folding Wings” dome. Designed by Kenneth A. MacDonald Jr. and Italian-born sculptor Federico Augustino Giorgi in a Spanish Revival and Californian Churrigueresque style, the shrine is a memorial to early aviation pioneers. The memorial was built in 1924 at the Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery entrance in Burbank, California, 12 miles west of downtown L.A.

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Originally named the Valhalla Memorial Rotunda, it was initially meant to be the entrance to Valhalla Memorial Park. The park was the work of American financiers John R. Osborne and C. C. Fitzpatrick, who spent $140,000 to create the impressive entrance through which visitors could drive their cars. On March 1, 1925, a concert starring English contralto Maude Elliott dedicated the newly built entrance.

The entrance became a tourist attraction and concert venue

The rotunda quickly became a tourist attraction and concert venue, from where local radio station KELW broadcast them live. Five months after the rotunda was dedicated, Osborne and Fitzpatrick were convicted of fraud. The pair had knowingly repeatedly sold the same burial plots over and over. According to the Los Angeles Times, they sold some of the plots as many as 16 times, netting themselves a profit of between $3 and $4 million. Both men were fined $12,000 each and sentenced to ten years in prison, of which they only served three.

The memorial known as the portal of the folding wings

Photo: Logan Bush /

The cemetery was sold to a funeral home in 1950

The 63-acre cemetery was then taken over by the State of California, which ran it until it was sold to funeral home operators the Pierce Brothers in 1950. In 1937 cemetery employee and aviation enthusiast James Gillette proposed that the rotunda be used as a memorial to early aviators. After years of tirelessly trying to convince the authorities of his idea, he finally convinced them to do it. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Wright Brother’s first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1953, the rotunda was renamed “The Portal of the Folded Wings.”

Several early aviators washed are buried in the shrine

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Amelia Earhart Plaque at Portal of the Folded Wings

The ashes of early aviation pioneers buried under memorial markers in the shrine include the following people:

  • Augustus Roy Knabenshue, America’s first dirigible pilot, who flew over New York City in 1905.
  • Charles E. Taylor, a man credited with assisting the Wright Brothers to build their first plane and engine.
  • W.B. (Bert) Kiner, the man who built Amelia Earhart’s first plane.
  • Evelyn “Bobbi” Trout was a female endurance record holder who began flying at the age of 16.
  • Hilda Florentia Smith was the first woman to fly out of the field, later becoming Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
  • John B. Moisant, the man who designed and built the first metal plane.
  • James E. Allard, a mechanic at Lockheed, who helped develop the SR-71 Blackbird.
  • James Floyd Smith was the man credited with designing the first manually operated parachute in 1918.

Interestingly, the location of the Portal of the Folded Wings is directly under the flight path of planes taking off and landing at nearby Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR).


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