Former first lady Betty Ford, 88, stood atop the broad steps of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church to receive the casket. A Marine Corps band struck up "Hail to the Chief" as the coffin of the Navy veteran of World War II was removed from a hearse, then played the hymn "O God Our Help in Ages Past" as the military pallbearers, moving in lockstep, made the slow climb to the doors of the white-columned church.
"We receive the body of our brother, Gerald, for burial," a minister said.
Mrs. Ford, clutching the arm of an Army general, stood in silence for a few moments after the casket was laid before a blond-wood altar and three wreaths of white flowers. Then she led other family members to the Presidents Pew, where she and her husband sat nearly every Sunday after leaving the White House in 1977.
The Ford family asked the Reverend Robert Certain, their pastor and friend for almost a decade, to preside over the service, as well as the others next week in Washington, D.C. and Grand Rapids, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.
Rev. Certain said his mission is "to point people to the life of this man, who exhibited strong virtue throughout his life."
A family service, closed to the public, was then held. A public viewing expected to draw thousands to the resort community 110 miles east of Los Angeles was scheduled for late Friday afternoon.
Mrs. Ford planned to accompany her husband's body across the country Saturday to Washington, where the nation's 38th president will lie in state at the Capitol. A funeral will be held on Tuesday at the National Cathedral. Ford will be buried on Wednesday in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he grew up.
Vice President Dick Cheney, who was Ford's chief of staff for part of his brief administration, will represent President Bush at the Capitol Saturday night, CBS Radio News correspondent Tom Foty reports. Mr. Bush himself will take part in the Tuesday morning services at Washington National Cathedral.
Security was tight at St. Margaret's, with helicopters hovering overhead. The Secret Service swept the area, and surrounding residential streets were blocked off.
A solemn crowd watched from well beyond the parking lot of the church, not far from the former president's Rancho Mirage home.
Among the spectators was Evelyn Tidholm, 80, a visitor from Oklahoma who said she voted for Ford in 1976. "I just have never seen anything like this. I thought that at my age it's something that I should see," she said.
Ford, who assumed the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday at 93.
Theas part of a national day of mourning. The Wall Street tradition dates to the 1885 burial of President Grant and was last observed after President Reagan's death in 2004.
Some of the most regal touches of a full state funeral are being bypassed, by request of his family and, most likely, according to Ford's own wishes. In Washington, a hearse rather than a horse-drawn caisson will take Ford's casket to the Capitol.
Fighter jets will do a flyover with a "missing man" formation only in Grand Rapids, where Ford will be buried on a hillside near his presidential museum. He spent most of his childhood in Grand Rapids, practiced law there and represented the area in Congress for 25 years.
All U.S. presidents are entitled to a state funeral with military pomp and public ceremony, but Ford, a humble man, had to be persuaded, Whitaker reports.
President Bush will return to Washington from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Jan. 1 and head directly to the Capitol Rotunda to pay his respects to Ford, reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. Mr. Bush has designated Tuesday as a "National Day of Mourning" and will deliver a tribute to Ford at the memorial service at the National Cathedral.