Friday, March 6, 2015

Rosehill Cemetery Mausoleum
 by: chicago designslinger

[Rosehill Cemetery Mausoleum (1914) Sidney Lovell, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Lets say you and four of your friends friends are looking for an investment and decide to buy a piece of real estate. Your property purchase has nothing on it, and you ask, "What's the best use of the land for the most profit?" The size of your lot isn't going to change, but if you can stack one income generating unit on top of another, your potentially profit producing plot may generate much more cash. This is why multi-unit buildings get built, and why banker C.B. Munday and his four partners chose to build a mausoleum in Chicago's venerable Rosehill Cemetery.

  [Rosehill Cemetery Mausoleum, 5800 N. Ravenswood Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Munday was the vice-president of LaSalle Street Trust & Savings Bank, and in 1912 he and four business associates created a holding company called the Cemetery Security Company when they purchased the 350-acre cemetery with just over $38,000 in cash and a note to pay-off the remaining $752,000 in ten years with interest. At the center of the cemetery sat a large section of unsold grave sites. Using the more is more theory, rather than selling each plot of ground as a single burial site, if they were able to sell the same plot a number of times by stacking one on top of another, the monetary return on that single 4 x 8 foot plot realize a substantial increase in income. So on October 30, 1912 the Chicago Tribune carried a large advertisement proclaiming the "Advantages of A Private Mausoleum - Now Within Reach of All" offered by the Community Mausoleum Company, Rosehill Cemetery.

  [Rosehill Cemetery Mausoleum, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Mausoleums had been around since the time of the ancient Greeks, and the Romans built a line of them along the Appian Way. They didn't come cheap. People of means erected mausoleums not only as repositories of their earthly remains but also as testaments of their earth-bound wealth. The new owners of Chicago's largest non-sectarian burial place were reaching out not only to the typically upper crust mausoleum-crypt client, but also to those who never thought they could possibly afford such luxury accommodations. The consortium hired Chicago architect Sidney Lovell to design a burial palace that would not only wow the masses, but be the largest in the world.

  [Rosehill Cemetery Mausoleum, Chicago/ Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Lovell didn't disappoint. He covered the interior with miles of Yule and Carrara marble and contracted with the Chicago-based firm of Giannini & Hilgart for the art glass. The investors didn't forget the typical mausoleum client. Wealthy Chicagoans were offered the opportunity to purchase "rooms" where they could create the familial environment of their choice. A number of individuals whose names may mean little today but who defined the power structure of the city at the time, purchased real estate in the burial building. Aaron Montgomery Ward and his fellow catalog innovator Richard Sears bought rooms down the hall from one another. John G. Shedd, chairman and president of Marshall Field & Co. outdid them all. He acquired not only one of the largest family rooms, but plenty of extra space to create an elegant foyer that provided seating with a Tiffany glass skylight overhead.

  [Rosehill Cemetery Mausoleum / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By the time the building was completed in 1914, seventy-five percent of the available space had been sold. The mausoleum not only attracted the rich, but also people who could afford to pay $350 for one of the 1,183 marble-fronted crypts. Munday and his gang were out of the burial game by then however. Their purchase of the cemetery came along with a cash reserve of over $800,000 in the cemetery's perpetual care fund, which the five apparently had used to their own benefit. Just under half of the amount was deposited in Munday's LaSalle Bank, fund dollars were "invested" in the companies of the other partners, and in the summer of 1914 Rosehill's community of companies were put into the hands of a court appointed receiver. On December 9, 1915 an ad appeared in the Tribune addressed "To the Public" from Wesley Dempster, the new owner of Rosehill. He wanted to assure everyone that the cemetery was now in good hands. Not only did the burial ground prosper under Dempster, but the everyman mausoleum was so popular that over the next 25 years the Rosehill governors added five more wings to Lovell's original design. And the mausoleum was such a hit that Sidney Lovell went on to design over 50 mausolea before his death in 1938. He had also secured patent #1244109 on October 23, 1917 for a filtration system that allowed air to circulate through the enclosed tombs so that visitors would never become overwhelmed by the fumes of decaying human remains.

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