ICFM Magazine, March-April 2006
You could call it the ultimate Florida retirement community, a place where residents will spend their post-golden years in idyllic surroundings, with beautifully manicured grounds and congenial neighbors. The Lohman family has turned a section of property they rescued from receivership into an exclusive garden that shows there is a market for high-end private estates.
When Nancy and Lowell Lohman purchased their latest cemetery property in Daytona Beach, Florida, three years ago, Lowell thought, "This could be the biggest mistake in our entire lives." The 90-acre property was an overgrown tangle, a landscaper's nightmare. But that was the least of the Lohmans' challenges. The former owner of the cemetery had pleaded guilty to third-degree felony fraud following a police investigation that uncovered dozens of misplaced bodies.
A blog (Internet journal) at the time reported that the previous cemetery was "equated to a house of horrors. Under [the] former owner ... dozens of people were buried in the wrong places, gold teeth were stolen from cadavers and medical waste was illegally dumped, according to state investigators."
The property then was in receivership. The court-appointed receiver encouraged Lowell to abandon his earlier plans to develop a new property on I-95 in favor of taking over this challenging property. The deal would include protecting the Lohmans from lawsuits based on issues that predated their ownership.
The dynamic husband-and-wife team, along with Lowell's brother Victor and son Ty, co-owners in the business, knew the risks but believed the potential rewards were higher. "There was no cemetery in our area that offered the blend of upscale memorialization services and options, especially the private estates garden that we had in mind" Lowell said.
Lowell's vision was to make the property the signature cemetery in the area. After many months of work and the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Lohman Daytona Memorial Park & Funeral Home is a beautifully landscaped cemetery featuring a cremation garden with a columbarium, a 450-crypt community mausoleum with a four-column portico and bronze and granite memorials dedicated to area police officers and veterans.
But what makes the cemetery stand out is Swan Lake, a garden limited to high-end private estates. The Lohmans are developing, in one section of this cemetery they rescued from neglect, a resting place for Daytona Beach's most famous and successful people, applying and elevating a relatively old concept—developing cemeteries for the rich and famous—through a private estates garden.
With a fountain in the middle, three resident swans and a shore lined with 30-foot palms, Swan Lake makes a beautiful central feature. Eight companion units and six larger-unit estates, all neoclassical style, have been built near the lake.
Six out of 14 units were sold within a year and a half—an impressive rate considering that these high-end private estates, all from Cold Spring Memorial Group, sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.
One private estate belongs to the Lohmans. Another belongs to the family of Edwin Peck Sr., a real estate magnate who spearheaded development of the first high-rise condominiums on Daytona Beach in the 1970s. Another belongs to L. Gale Lemerand, who launched his pioneering residential insulation company, Gale Insulation, which Lemerand later sold for more than $100 million.
The principals who have prearranged to be memorialized in Swan Lake all have a stake in convincing others to be pre-arranged in equally stately structures to make Swan Lake the grandest private estate garden in Florida. Along with the Lohmans, they are Swan Lake's biggest advocates, assisting the Lohmans in promoting and generating additional private estate sales for Swan Lake.
"We had buried Mr. and Mrs. Williams—that's my wife Hilda's mother and father—and were unhappy that the former cemetery owners had not kept the gardens up," Peck said. "After I read in the newspaper about the Lohmans purchasing the property, I immediately called Lowell and made a prearrangement with him for a six-crypt unit. When Lowell decided to go ahead with Swan Lake, I told him I was all for it and made a trade-off investment to replace my original prearrangement with a columned private estate and also arranged for my wife's parents to be moved to our private estate."
Peck talks about Swan Lake at Daytona Beach social gatherings and parties, sends letters inviting people to tour Swan Lake, and also conducts tours himself. With the wealth of connections that the Pecks, Lemerands and Lohmans have in the community, awareness of Swan Lake has been growing. When the Lohmans held a reception dedicating three newly completed Swan Lake private estates in June, hundreds of Daytona Beach business and community leaders showed up.
Swan Lake originally was a muddy and weed-infested jumble of shrubs and trees. "Until we saw the lake in the back of the property, we didn't even know it existed," Lowell said. "We immediately saw great promise in enlarging the lake and landscaping each private estate with walkways, hedges and a pair of benches. The biggest mistake I've found is that if you can't control the landscape of your property, its value and public appreciation will fall. No small personalization detail should be omitted in an undertaking like this. For example, we arranged for inscriptions on the estates to be made in gold leaf."
The cost of upscale private estates is beyond the means of most people, but with their Swan Lake development, the Lohmans are proving that there is strong demand for higher-end private estates in markets such as Daytona Beach.
"When all is said and done, the most visible thing you can leave behind for people to remember you by is a private estate," Lowell said. "So we strove to build the best private estate garden in Florida."