Cholame, CA is the site of the James Dean Memorial, which pays tribute to the immortal actor, recalls his untimely death at the age of 24, and inspires new fans.
James Dean made his way from farm boy in Fairmount, Indiana to actor in Hollywood, California and "passed into legend at Cholame, California September 30, 1955." Born Feb. 8, 1931, Dean was only 24 years old on that fateful day.
Many know of Dean through his movies, like Rebel Without a Cause (1955), East of Eden (1955) and Giant (1956). Others, like myself and my friend Jeana Cole who were born after Dean's death, have not seen his movies but know of the actor.
Recently, Cole posted pictures of the James Dean Memorial on her Facebook page and agreed to be interviewed about her journey to the site in Cholame, CA.
Cole said that "My husband went to Pismo Beach, CA with some of our California neighbors when I was home [in Arkansas] during Christmas. They knew of the memorial and decided to stop."
"When my husband and I went to Pismo this last weekend we stopped so that I could see the memorial and take a few pictures," Cole said.
The memorial surrounds a tree, and like many, Cole "was told that was the tree he hit but reading more into it, it's not, it is a "tree of heaven," a china-sumac. The memorial surrounds that tree. He didn't even hit a tree, another car pulled out in front of him."
James Dean Memorial. Cholame, CA April 2012
According to IMDb, the filming of Giant "was just coming to a close when Dean, driving his Porsche Spyder race car, collided with another car while on the road near Cholame, California on September 30, 1955. He had received a speeding ticket just two hours before. James Dean was killed almost immediately from the impact from a broken neck."
The James Dean Memorial is in Cholame, which is about a mile from the crash site where, it is said, a car driven by a college student made "a left turn without seeing Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder approaching in the oncoming lane". The James Dean Memorial Junction of California Highways 41 and 46 is located at that site.
There is a cafe at the memorial site in Cholame. According to Cole, "The cafe is called Jack Ranch Cafe. We stopped and went in and got some wonderful homemade cookies and a drink for the road. The cafe does have a lot of memorabilia but not many souvenirs. It's a small cafe. There were signs posted all over 'watch out for rattlesnakes' so I didn't want to stay too long! The people at the cafe are really nice and friendly."
James Dean Memorial with Jack Ranch Cafe in background. Cholame, CA April 2012
Cole said the memorial "has a big plaque with the story of James Dean, but like I said...rattlesnakes made me want to get out of there...fast!" Cole sent along a photograph of the plaque, but the entire plaque was not captured due to Cole's wanting to move along quickly as rattlesnakes may be nearby. The plaque is entitled "Tribute to a Young Man," and reads in part: He died just before sundown on September 30, 1955...not 900 yards east of this tree, long known as the Tree of Heaven...James Dean lives on.
"I haven't really ever seen a James Dean movie or anything so I guess I really wasn't a fan," Cole said, "but seeing the memorial and reading more into it I have become a new fan! His short life was very interesting and full of action."
Others who travel to the site may feel the same. As IMDb said of Dean, "His very brief career, violent death and highly publicized funeral transformed him into a cult object of apparently timeless fascination." Fascination with James Dean can be kindled, or rekindled, by traveling to the James Dean Memorial in Cholame, California.