Forest Lawn Cemetery - Table of Contents

Blue Sky Mausoleum


Darwin Martin


Frank Lloyd Wright


1925 - 1928



Building material:

Rock of Ages Bethel White Granite from Vermont
Construction co.
Stone Art Memorial Co.

Official Blue Sky Mausoleum Home Page

The text below is excerpted from

Peter Carzasty, Frank Lloyd Wright's Blue-Sky Mausoleum Nears Completion in Buffalo's Historic Forest Lawn Cemetery, 76 years After Its Original Commission
The book is available for sale at the Forest Lawn Cemetery Administration Building near the Delaware entrance to Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Click on illustrations to enlarge





See also
Frank Lloyd Wright in Buffalo - Links

See also
Darwin D. Martin House

The exact genesis of the Blue-Sky Mausoleum is not entirely clear. But the relationship between Wright and Martin was certainly very deep, and sometime between 1925 and 1928, they discussed a mausoleum. It is likely that the notion was an outgrowth of conversations between the two, and its multiple crypts likely to have evolved from Martin's lifelong desire to bring his family together in one place.

The mausoleum was never built, however. By 1929, Martin had amassed a fortune of between two and three million dollars. However, given economic uncertainties during that year of the stock market crash, he postponed construction of Blue-Sky Mausoleum. When he died in 1935, his entire estate totaled 37 cents, plus properties. Upon learning of Martin's death, Frank Lloyd Wright wrote to a colleague, "Today my best friend has died."

The Blue-Sky Mausoleum: Wright's Outside-in, Inside-Out Design

Consistent with a principle he applied in many of his structures, Wright merged nature and artifice in Blue-Sky Mausoleum. From both structural and aesthetic perspectives, Wright sought to join the vistas of nature with a structure to serve human needs.

[Forest Lawn President] Fred Whaley explains Wright's innovation this way: "To Frank Lloyd Wright, the ceiling, or the roof if you will, of this memorial was the sky -- not a constructed ceiling or roof. The walls are the natural trees and ground and organic materials surrounding the site -- not constructed walls. This is a very, very significant departure from earlier thinking of memorials and mausoleums." Since the structure has no ceiling or walls, it also has no entrance, another departure from tradition.

Like his design for the Darwin Martin home, Wright's plan for Blue-Sky Mausoleum is essentially a pier-and-cantilever construction based on a bilateral axis. Broad granite ledgers containing 24 crypts - 12 on each side - rise gently toward a wide terrace, where a monolith forms the central memorial. The entire memorial is Rock of Ages Bethel White Granite from Vermont - a material of the earth - in an otherwise entirely natural setting. Blue-Sky Mausoleum overlooks a pond, and conifers form the "walls" of the terrace, providing contrast to the pavement, as Wright had planned. Benches invite visitors to rest and reflect. The whole aspect is, indeed, park-like and invites peaceful contemplation.

The memorial, which Wright described alternately as a mausoleum and a sarcophagus, reflects some characteristics of both. But in a significant departure from any other memorial in the world, Wright's unique stair-like mausoleum employs natural elements not as decoration, but as fully integrated structural elements.

Not surprisingly, his notion about monuments mirrored his principle of harmony between structure and landscape, which he proclaimed widely and made manifest particularly in his prairie-style residential designs. "And if monuments must be, why not now extend the monument horizontally, keeping it broad and low instead of pushing it upward to make the usual inane forest of stone posts?"

Forest Lawn: A Landmark Cemetery

That Wright's significant Blue-Sky Mausoleum was designed for Forest Lawn Cemetery is entirely appropriate, given the strong sentiments Mr. Wright expressed. The cemetery, "established in 1849, is 269 acres of hills and valleys, trees and lawns, punctuated by three lovely lakes and a meandering Scajaquada Creek. It is also Western New York's largest arboretum and a notable bird sanctuary." (Forest Lawn Cemetery.- Buffalo History Preserved). It is also home to more than 152,000 interments, including many notable public figures. And finally, it is an outdoor museum with monuments, sculptures and mausoleums created by some of the world's greatest sculptors and architects, including Stanford White, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Harriet Frishmuth, E. B. Green, Richard Upjohn, N. Cantalamessa Papotti, George Cary and Charles Cary Rumsey.

As Fred Whaley explains, "Forest Lawn comes out of the history and tradition that really began in our country in 1831. 1 think it is fair to say that, prior to then, the word cemetery wasn't even in our lexicon, The concept started as an outgrowth of Pere-Lachaise in Paris in 1805," and was first developed in this country at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Like Forest Lawn, these are park-like places with bucolic vistas, for the living -- where families would feel welcome to visit and remember their loved ones. These predated public parks; the first in the United States was Central Park, built in the 1850s.

Whaley notes that cemeteries actually served as the country's first parks. "Communities found that people visited these new cemeteries with no reference to a death in the family or paying respects, but simply because they were green spaces. People took a carriage ride out with a picnic basket to enjoy the setting that these cemeteries provided...."

Wright's Other Memorial Designs

Blue-Sky Mausoleum was one of three designs for cemetery structures that Frank Lloyd Wright was known to have created, and certainly the most innovative of them.

The first was the Pettit Memorial Chapel at Belvedere Cemetery in Belvedere, Illinois. Wright designed it for Emma Pettit in 1906-07, and incorporated his signature Prairie elements of that period of his work. It serves as a chapel and memorial, but does not include burial chambers.

Wright's last known memorial design was for the Unity Temple in Wisconsin's Taliesin Valley. He developed the design in 1958 as a memorial and burial structure for himself, his wife Olgivanna, their daughter Iovanna and members of the Taliesin Fellowship. At the time of Wright's death, work had begun on the foundation, but the project was never continued beyond that point. His design incorporated a series of stone sarcophagi set into the floor, and the chapel reflects some elements of his Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, and his unbuilt design for a Christian Science Church in Bolinas, California.

Photos and their arrangement 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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