Noted architects often have uninspiring graves

A new book suggests while noted architects may have designed important buildings, their gravesites don’t often reflect their skills:

I was inspired to visit Graceland, located at 4001 N. Clark St. and home to the graves of many other notable Chicagoans, by the new book, “Their Final Place: A Guide to the Graves of Notable American Architects.” This slim, self-published volume is no masterwork, but it raises an intriguing question: How, if at all, do architects, who spend their working lives creating monuments for clients, choose to memorialize themselves?…

What Kuehn discovered is surprising: The aforementioned memorials at Graceland, which distill the essence of their subjects’ architectural style and achievements, are the exception, not the rule. Many architects are buried beneath simple headstones. Some look as if they were ordered from a catalog.

“It seems strange that these great architects, who created landmark structures during their lives, put so little thought into how they themselves would be memorialized for time eternal,” Kuehn writes. “Apparently most of these architectural giants, like most of us ordinary people, either did not feel like dealing with death or felt that a lasting memorial for them was not important.”…

Yet he notes a countertrend: Many architects have had their ashes scattered on bodies of water, on landscapes or in buildings that have special meaning. There’s no memorial to Chicago architect Harry Weese at Graceland; Weese, a sailor, wanted his ashes scattered on Lake Michigan. In another interesting tidbit, Kuehn reports that the ashes of Paul Rudolph, a former dean of Yale’s architecture school, were distributed in several places, including the ventilating system of the Rudolph-designed Yale Art and Architecture Building (now called Rudolph Hall).

Perhaps these architects put all they have into “living” buildings or the scale of a memorial is simply too small? The flipside of an analysis like this would be to then look at the people who do make elaborate plans for their graves and death. If they aren’t architects, are there patterns to those who do prepare?

I do wonder how more elaborate memorials might be received. I’ve seen a few articles over the years criticizing larger gravestones or mausoleums, tying the excessive size and cost to McMansions. The key here might be to create tasteful, innovative, and relatively small graves.

Uptick in McMansion type cemetery plots and mausoleums?

Sales of big houses are on the rise as are sales of expensive cemetery plots:

The generation that brought us the McMansion is now reviving the McMausoleum. As more boomers contemplate their final years, some are spending sums of $1 million or more to buy or build spacious resting places in exclusive historic graveyards, as Stefanos Chen of The Wall Street Journal reports this week. The result, says Chen: An eruption of bungalow-sized luxury tombs, flanked by colorful statuary (think roller skates and Fender Stratocasters) in memorial parks previously known for their grim sobriety…

For Americans, big spending on burial today is more an issue of location, location, location. Older cemeteries that already host the remains of prominent people are able to command premium prices for their dwindling supply of plots. Ray Brandt, a 66-year-old attorney, talks with Chen about his $1.1 million mausoleum in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans—where the plot alone can cost $250,000. How do you get from there to seven figures? For starters, the lot is bigger than any New York City apartment I ever lived in, at 1,024 square feet, with resting space for 12. “There will be two sets of bronze doors, one of which will open to a back patio with picnic-style furniture and a view of a lagoon,” explains Chen. “I guess it’s the last house I’ll buy,” says Brandt.

Even boomers with smaller budgets are influencing the look and layout of cemeteries. In the Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles, one of the most common requests is to be buried near the grave of Johnny Ramone (born John Cummings), whose plot features a bust of the late punk rocker wailing on his guitar. (Ramone, who passed away in 2004, isn’t actually buried there yet, but the cemetery says his ashes will be moved there along with his wife’s after she dies.) Those who can’t be near such monument statuary are increasingly asking for equally distinctive décor, Chen reports, custom-ordering, say, a bust of a Greek warrior or a frieze of flamenco dancers.

Some thoughts:

1. I think this is a convenient story-line: boomers who like McMansions also like big burial sites. While there is an attempt in the second paragraph of the story to suggest other American generations have also liked big plots, the hook to the story is that the boomers spend excessively.

2. There is little to no data in this story suggesting there is a real uptick in the sales of these large plots.

3. Does this mean that even more than ever those with money to purchase such monuments will be remembered much more than people who choose cremation?

4. This story hints at another issue: historic cemeteries are running out of space. This means they can drive up the asking price but does it also mean they are very nearly “dead” institutions? With the rise of cremations, is there a glut of space in newer cemeteries or on the whole are cemeteries slowly easing out of existence?

Keep McMansions out by adding cemeteries

I have not heard of this strategy before: zone for cemeteries in order to limit the spread of McMansions.

Looking toward a time when cemetery space is likely to be in short supply, the Diocese of Trenton is seeking approval to eventually turn acres of farmland in the Crosswicks section of the township into a final resting place for local Catholics…

In Hamilton, the situation is not as dire as in North Jersey, where, Dressel said, high-rise mausoleums have been suggested as a solution for overcrowding…

Councilman Dave Kenny said a cemetery is preferable to other types of development. And since the land is already owned by the tax-exempt diocese, it’s not as if the township can wring more tax money out of it.

“It protects the hamlet to have cemeteries there to prevent it from more intense development, like McMansions, that would certainly be out of character there,” Kenny said.

Historic districts in order to keep McMansions away? A common strategy. Cemeteries? Interesting. I wonder if there are every NIMBY concerns about cemeteries. And if the diocese could have sold the land to developers who might then build McMansions, why can’t the land be sold and developed in such a way that local governments could get new tax revenues?

The suggestion in this article is that some municipalities don’t plan ahead enough so that there is adequate cemetery space when growth occurs. How often do local zoning boards consider proposals for cemeteries? Is it primarily the responsibility of dioceses or religious organizations to bring proposals forward?

This reminds me that Simcity made little provision for cemeteries (it may only have been a reward in Simcity 4). There has to be some place for people to be buried…

McMansions in the cemetery

This may seem like a strange application of the word “McMansion” but this I have seen several other articles that apply the term to cemeteries. With just the right amount of money, one can purchase a plot in one of New York City’s “most prestigious cemeteries”:

Woodlawn, the final home of honorary New Yorkers such as the publisher Joseph Pulitzer, the composer Irving Berlin and the musician Duke Ellington, calls itself the “resting place of a host of history’s greats”…

Labelled the “McMansions of the dead” by Susan Olsen, the cemetery historian, these tombs come complete with features, such as ornate carvings and mosaics, that are detailed in glossy brochures.

“We’re a little pricier than most places,” said Ms Olsen. “It’s not only because of the quality of our mausoleums but also the service we provide.

“Our lawns are mowed every 10 days, we have full-time security and we transport visitors to the graveside. It’s sort of like staying in the fancier hotels. We’re certainly the Ritz of cemeteries.”

I like the emphasis on service: that money should buy you more than just a piece of real estate.

The allusion to McMansions apparently refers to the wealth and opulence of such homes. But this isn’t fit just for anyone with money: in addition, Olsen also suggests this trend was started by people with “new money” who wanted to establish themselves. If you can practice conspicuous consumption in life, why not also in death?

I suspect wealthy families might not like having their plots and mausoleums labeled “McMansions.” Could this hurt the cemetery?