The good (after) life

  • Article by: FRANK JOSSI , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2012 - 11:27 AM

If you're really planning ahead, Lakewood Cemetery has the perfect resting place for you (or your loved ones).

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Lakewood Mausoleum

Photo: Paul Crosby Architectural Photography,

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As the resting place of many of the state's most famous citizens, Lakewood Cemetery is considered hallowed ground where the construction of a new building is a lengthy undertaking and where architectural expectations are high.

This isn't, after all, your average cemetery. Perched near the shores of Lake Calhoun, Lakewood serves as the final home of such late luminaries as Sen. Paul Wellstone, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Gov. Rudy Perpich and visionary business leaders such as Curt Carlson, John Pillsbury and art patron Thomas Walker.

The cemetery's newest structure, The Garden Mausoleum, opened quietly late last year and will have a grander opening Memorial Day weekend, May 26 to May 29. Designed by Joan Soranno of HGA, the $30 million mausoleum is a thoroughly modern building that fits snugly into a hillside of a bowl-shaped area encompassing the Pool of Reflections and Garden Crypts.

Located on the west side of the West 36th Street entrance to Lakewood, the Pool of Reflections and Garden Crypts serves is home to two existing and significant buildings: The 1910 neo-Byzantine Lakewood Chapel and the 1967 International style-inspired Community Memorial Mausoleum and Columbarium.

Soranno has designed buildings for spiritual gatherings before, among them the Bigelow Chapel at the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton and B'nai Israel Synagogue in Rochester. On this project she praised Lakewood's building committee for specifically asking that the mausoleum reflect 21st century design principles and sensibilities by being "a product of its time," she said. "That's pretty unusual for a cemetery, which usually wants something in a historical style."

The concept she had in mind was a light-filled spiritually nurturing building where visitors could contemplate their loved ones while staying connected to nature and the living world.

"You have to keep in mind that a mausoleum is a place where people are grieving," she said. "I kept thinking about how to design a healing type of architecture for those who are grieving and yet make it uplifting, too."

Soranno had seen plenty of dark, oppressive mausoleums built in past eras and did not want to repeat their style. Instead, she focused on "a light filled space," a "warm space" where visitors could view the cemetery from the windows.

The 27,000 square foot interior does, in fact, connects easily to the outside world and bathes the rooms and hallways -- even on a dreary day -- with natural light. The first floor meeting room opens on to a deck overlooking the pool of reflections and Community Memorial Mausoleum next door.

Down a staircase the first floor has six crypt rooms with 735 casket spaces and six columbaria rooms with 3,500 niches for urns. In addition, there are three family crypt areas. Large windows frame the Pool of Reflections and Crypts. Light colored marble floors -- mixed at points with pink, green and gold onyx -- combine with the skylights and window to offer a warm and a contemplative environment.

Outside, the grey granite clad mausoleum offers a contrast of sorts. The square entrance with large bronze doors has a recessed window with abstract patterns of white mosaics. To the side is green roof interspersed by the skylights.

On lower floor the building forms a series of extruding boxes with large recessed windows framed by white mosaic patterns. Along the exterior walls are 144 casket spaces and 1,144 urns.

Ronald Gjerde Jr., president of the Lakewood Cemetery Association, said two person exterior niches start at $6,900 while interior ones are $7,100. Crypts start at $17,000. The prices are "a good deal" considering the quality of the building and the site, he said.

For families visiting the mausoleum it's a good deal, too, to be able to pay tribute to a lost loved one while in a meditative environment firmly connected to the natural world.

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