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SAN FERNANDO, Calif. - A few years before her husband died in 2003, Dolores Hope asked him where he wanted to be buried.

"Surprise me," legendary comedian Bob Hope said.

It's a pretty good bet she did.

No, it's not under a sand trap at his beloved Lakeside Golf Course near his Toluca Lake home, or a USO stage in some part of the world.

It's a memorial garden near a chapel on the grounds of the San Fernando Mission in Mission Hills.

Not an overly religious man, Hope still covered his bets when it came to faith, his friends say.

"He never turned down a benefit for any religion," said his longtime publicist, Ward Grant. "Bob always said, 'With my act, you don't take any chances."'

Since his death at age 100, Hope has been interred in a mausoleum at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, next door to the mission, while Dolores designed the garden and architectural and landscape professionals completed it.

"Dad's been in a holding pattern for a couple of years, and now he's finally home," said his daughter, Linda, walking through the Bob Hope Memorial Garden, which opens to the public today.

"Dad loved the San Fernando Valley and the outdoors, and this was as much of a golf-course kind of setting as we could find."

The family acquired burial rights for the garden, which is owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Hope, who traveled the world for six decades entertaining and bringing some much-needed laughter to war-weary GIs, is interred in one of two Spanish limestone memorial tablets with the simple inscription: Leslie Townes Hope, "Bob," 1903-2003.

It abuts a resting place for Dolores, even though her mother always envisioned herself in a different setting, Linda said.

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"Mom always said she wanted to be buried between St. Patrick's Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York - two of her favorite places," she joked.

Also buried in the memorial garden are Tony Hope, Hope's son, who died of a pulmonary aneurysm last year, and Dolores' mother, Teresa Kelly DeFina.

"And there are some empty apartments waiting for the rest of us," said Linda, who has her father's sense of humor.

If anyone thinks Dolores just wrote a check for Bob's final resting place, they're wrong, says Monsignor Francis Weber, who has been at the mission for 24 years.

"She was here every week, spending hours in the baking sun, personally overseeing the garden's progress to make sure everything was just right."

He told a story of how Dolores sat for an hour recently, staring at a bronze statue of Our Lady of Hope at the entrance of the garden.

"She said it didn't look level to her, but all the workers swore it was perfectly centered. Dolores got out one of those leveling rods, and found it was one-sixteenth of an inch off.

"Pretty good eyes for a 96-year-old woman," Weber said.

When Bob Hope died on July 27, 2003, United States flags were lowered to half-staff all across this country, and the lights on Broadway were dimmed.

He could have been buried anywhere in the world. Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia was holding a spot for him, and so was the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

But Dolores Hope chose Bob's backyard in the Valley.

Does she think her father would have been surprised, Linda was asked.

"No, my dad spent most of his life here. He loved the San Fernando Valley."

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