Creation of a Modern Park Cemetery

Date Published: 
September, 1929
Original Author: 
Hubert Eaton
General Manager, Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Los Angeles, California
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Convention

The subject "Creation of a Modern Park Cemetery" would necessitate a theoretical discourse—the "Creation of Forest Lawn" is an actual experience from which you may acquire some practical benefit.

My first glimpse of Forest Lawn Cemetery showed it to be a little country cemetery, of ten acres developed, forty-five undeveloped; with no buildings, no improvements, with the exception of a grove of olive trees and a few scattering headstones. Such a picture most of you have seen many times. Forest Lawn's other assets were a total of 1400 interments, and yearly gross sales of $28,000.

Today, twelve years after we took charge, Forest Lawn Cemetery is Forest Lawn Memorial Park—Park it is, because the visitor rarely recognizes that he is entering into a so-called "cemetery". Forest Lawn now comprises over 200 acres, with a total of 28,464 interments, sales amounting to more than one million dollars per year, and total assets aggregating ten million dollars. It averages 300 interments per month, and 81 weddings per month. Our payroll of yesterday showed an organization of 406 employees, including an Architectural Department of 12 Architects and an Engineering force of like number.

Today it possesses many buildings of historical and architectural charm that house some of the world's greatest art treasures, and last year more than 525,000 visitors passed through her gates. Forest Lawn is not only a safe depository for our beloved dead, but also a place for the living to visit and sacredly enjoy. The manner in which these results have been arrived at are briefly as follows:

My first move twelve years ago when I awoke to find myself in charge of Forest Lawn Cemetery, was to personally visit the great interment places of the world. I talked to Superintendents, Grave Diggers, Presidents, and Undertakers. I wanted to find out why a African-American whistled when he went through a cemetery; I wanted to find out why most of the interment spots in the United States were places to be shunned—looked upon as civic liabilities where they should have been civic assets. I wanted to find out why even the most beautiful cemeteries were visited by people mainly from a sense of duty; why most of them were so ugly, and why they didn't have architects and landscape engineers connected with them. I wanted to find out if the cemeteries were wrong or if it was the people. And then when I had finished with the cemeteries, I visited public parks, glimpsed their lovely vistas, watched their fountains at play, admired their beautiful statuary and studied their architectural buildings. I strolled through museums and galleries of art; I questioned people who had traveled in the art centers of the Old World—and then I came home. I had found my answer.


I have always found if I put my thoughts into writing the very act seems to clarify my mind and enables me to approach a problem in a logical manner. And so, on New Year's Day, 1917 I sat down and wrote what I termed "The Builder's Creed", and if I were called upon today to give you my recipe for the "Creation of a Modern Park Cemetery", the best I could do would be to hand you this Creed:

"I believe in a happy Eternal Life. I believe that those of us left behind should be glad in the certain belief that those gone before have entered into that happier life. I believe, most of all, in a Christ that smiles and loves you and me. I therefore know the cemeteries of today are wrong because they depict an end, not a beginning. They have consequently become unsightly stone yards, full of inartistic symbols and depressing customs, places that do nothing for humanity save a practical act and that not well.

"I therefore prayerfully resolve on this New Year's Day, 1917, that, I shall endeavor to build Forest Lawn as different as unlike other cemeteries as sunshine is unlike darkness, as Eternal Life is unlike Death. I shall try to build at Forest Lawn a great Park, devoid of misshapen monuments and other customary signs of earthly death, but filled with towering trees, sweeping lawns, splashing fountains, singing birds, beautiful statuary, cheerful flowers, noble memorial architecture, with interiors full of light and color, and redolent of the world's best history and romances. I believe these things educate and uplift a community.

"Forest Lawn shall become a place where lovers new and old shall love to stroll and watch the sunset's glow, planning for the future or reminiscing of the past; a place where artists study and sketch; where school teachers bring happy children to see the things they read of in books; where little churches invite, triumphant in the knowledge that from their pulpits only words of love can be spoken, where memorialization of loved ones in sculptured marble and pictorial glass shall be encouraged but controlled by acknowledged artists; a place where the sorrowing will be soothed and strengthened because it will be God's Garden. A place that shall be protected by an immense Perpetual Care Fund, the principal of which can never be expended—only the income there from used to care for and perpetuate this Garden of Memory. This is the Builder's Dream; this is the Builder's Creed."

That Creed has never been changed from that day to this and at Forest Lawn it has been not only our aesthetic guide but it has been the practical, every day rule upon which all our development and operation has been based.

Let me tell you of a few of the milestones that we passed in our endeavor to carry out this Creed.

Our financial set-up included two corporations—one, a corporation which owned the land and was the usual form of Business Corporation with stockholders who invested their money with the hopes of making profit. The other corporation, called Forest Lawn Cemetery Association, was a mutual association with no stockholders, comprised of lot owners and so constituted that any profits it might make must be expended back upon the cemetery and could not be distributed for the benefit of any individual. The Land Company made a contract with the Association to sell the Association its land and the purchase price was determined by a fifty-fifty division of whatever amount the Association should receive from the public for its lots. The Association thus purchased from the Land Company real estate as it would have purchased it from any other corporation or landowner. The Association then took these lands and manufactured them into a cemetery product.

Financing, efficiency and organization have always been the subjects that we at Forest Lawn give the most Attention. We know if the finances and sales are not forthcoming, the plans that we hold so dear to our hearts cannot be carried out. Forest Lawn had no money; therefore we next turned our attention to a Sales Force.

The Sales Force was divided into two groups: A salaried force for selling our products for immediate use to the purchaser who had a death in his family; the other group sold our product before need and their remuneration was based entirely on commission.

This "Before Need” was the first organization west of the Mississippi to sell cemetery lands in this manner—a method that had been tried in but two other places in the world before. Sales forces are needed, but they can be either a great blessing or a great abomination. I could talk to you for hours on our experience with sales forces, but time does not permit. In passing, let me urge this one word of caution out of our experience. That Sales Force is wrong whose whole theory of salesmanship is based upon price, money, buy cheap today and make a profit tomorrow. The best and highest type of salesmen in this business never mention these subjects—he deals only with the moral factors involved, such as insurance, duty, protection to the family, approaching the matter in the same light as one draws his will.
We next laid plans for development. We immediately saw the wisdom of merging together all forms of burial—namely, cremation, mausoleum, and cemetery under one management and one ownership. This, I believe, was the first time this had been done in the United States. The amalgamation of three overheads meant not only financial efficiency but again gave to the purchaser a great service. A family could disagree upon the various forms of burial each one desired and yet in Forest Lawn we offered to them the prospect of finally being gathered together in one spot.

"Beauty" was the yardstick by which we measured equally the physical development of our grounds and buildings the requests of the purchaser that something special be done on his lot or his crypt, or the Engineer's and Architect's plans and specifications. We realized that Forest Lawn must be developed as a whole. No longer must the individual be allowed to do anything in regard to his interment space.

I adopted three slogans:
1.    We shall depict LIFE, not Death.
2.    A safe depository for our beloved dead and also a place for the living to sacredly enjoy.
3.    Spend one dollar in construction today to save one cent in future care tomorrow.

We also changed the method of computing Perpetual Care in terms of a percentage of the purchase price, to that method of setting so much aside per square foot of land area to be taken care of regardless of purchase price received.

Our next step was to revise the rules, regulations and restrictions. Here we encountered the greatest obstacle of all. Precedent is one of the hardest things there is to combat in the human mind. The older we grow the less do we like changes; the more we like to do as was done before. The public looks with suspicion upon radical changes in interment places.

We had early determined that it was monuments that had turned cemeteries into stone yards. I could find nothing beautiful in ninety nine percent of the so-called "monuments" placed in the cemeteries of America. They rendered a Park plan impossible. We first offered the purchaser a ten percent discount if he would accept a deed without a monumental privilege extending above the surface of the lawn. I then called together the prominent monument dealers and reasoned with them. I suggested that in the main they were creating objects of ugliness. I requested that they cooperate with me in endeavoring to create only memorials of beauty. I left that meeting discouraged because it seemed to me there was not one of them on speaking terms with "beauty." A year later, Forest Lawn took the bull by the horns and forever eradicated the so-called "monument." Then they took me to the Grand Jury. "Restraint of trade" was the charge. Have you ever walked into the Grand Jury room as a possible defendant? I explained and the Jury laughed away my fears.

Then we underwent that experience, awful to any cemetery man, viz., of seeing would be purchaser turn and leave Forest Lawn without purchasing, because they could not have a monument. It took nerve to "Stand by the guns" in those days—particularly when we were sailing an unchartered sea. I held firm, however, in the belief that the Five Dollar gold piece was obscured by the Silver Dollar close to our eye and too, one must be true to one's Creed. Soon the tide turned. The public began to see the picture we were striving to create and today, the only requests we have for monuments are when the purchaser desires to spend sufficient money to create a real work of art.

Through the years we gradually affected other reforms. I list a few of them:

We banned artificial flowers.

Nothing in front of or on mausoleum crypts except those bronze vases and crypt memorials designed by and furnished by the Association.

(I wonder why it is that people always go to their attic when they desire to take something to a cemetery or a mausoleum I have seen mausoleum shelves that look like a bottle factory on a spree.)

No memorial decoration whatsoever placed without the approval of the Association.

The Association does all planting.

Markers at graves restricted to bronze only—more lasting and more artistic; lawnmowers do not chip.

No coping or any form of enclosure allowed to mark the lines of any lot or grave.

Memorials in mausoleum either bronze or Carrara marble—other metals and Alabaster prohibited.

No cut-in letters permitted on crypts except in first unit of mausoleum.

All burials in Forest Lawn must be made in concrete boxes, the reason being that wood boxes cave in, leaving an unsightly greensward and add appreciably to care.

We pictured LIFE, not Death. We carefully eradicated the old familiar signs of death. We substituted the winged-doves, swimming ducks, singing birds, splashing fountains—everything symbolical of LIFE. We eradicated even the trees that lose their leaves in the winter time suggesting death. And thus restriction upon restriction we piled up but always that restriction was based upon the good of all, even though it hurt the individual, and always based upon the best professional artistic judgment we could get.

Our first building was inspired by the Architect's visit to that little church at Stoke Poges where the poet Gray wrote his immortal "Elegy, written in a Country Churchyard." In keeping with our resolution to depict LIFE and not Death, we added, adjacent to the pews, conservatories filled with flowers and singing birds. Over the chancel we wrote this inscription: "A New Commandment I give unto you, that ye' love one another." This church was properly dedicated with all due solemnity and ceremony and then, like any other church it was thrown open for sermons, funerals, weddings, christenings, etc. We called this church "The Little Church of the Flowers" and it has become so popular that today we are just finishing another, to be dedicated as the "Wee Kirk o' the Heather." It is an exact reconstruction of Annie Laurie's church at Glencairn, Scotland, which lies in ruins.

Our Mausoleum has been built in units, conforming to a general plan. We estimate the general building will take about fifteen years more to complete, at a total cost of approximately Twenty-five Millions of Dollars. Four units have been completed and sold. The fifth is now under construction and will contain the great Memorial Court of Honor wherein "The Last Supper" window will be placed. These units have been built as sales progressed. Gross sales in the Mausoleum, to date, have amounted to approximately three millions of dollars. Here again we planned to eradicate gloom and depression substituting cheer, bright colors, depicting galleries of art rather than halls of death, always bearing in mind our slogan of "A safe depository for our beloved dead, but also a place for the living to sacredly enjoy." I touch the physical description only briefly because I understand you are later to visit Forest Lawn.

I shall never forget my first purchase of statuary. It was Edith Parson's "Duck Baby," made famous by Robinson's poem at the San Francisco Fair. I suggested to the Board that they authorize me to make this purchase. I immediately saw that the appropriation would not pass the Boards, so I adjourned the meeting without putting the matter to a vote. A week later I purchased the statue on my own authority as General Manager. A short time ago we placed in Forest Lawn the great "Mystery of Life" statue, comprising some twenty two life size figures, the site of which occupies 3,576 square feet, at a cost of approximately sixty-seven thousand dollars. That appropriation passed the Board without a dissenting vote and many expressions of enthusiastic approval. Such was the difference between the old attitude and the new. The same men, the same Board but with a different view point.

In 1923 I started by biennial trips to Europe, with the intention of studying at close range the art and architecture of those places acknowledged by the world, without debate, to be "beautiful." Every other year I have gone abroad, bringing back to Forest Lawn bigger and better things as my experience became qualified and Forest Lawn's progress became more assured. I could talk to you for hours telling you of antique furniture, old tapestries, the sword of Charles the First, Michelangelo's "Moses", "The Last Supper", in art glass, Fanfani's "Mother Love," Canova's "Three Graces" adinfinitum.

If you desire, go see these things for yourself. Be sure to tell my boys to give you a Guide Book, (we finally had to issue one, explaining approximately 165 works of art—educational, inspiring, and replete with the world's best historical romances. Who ever heard of a cemetery having a Guide Book? Who ever heard of a cemetery that, during the month of June, had to close its book of wedding reservations at 165 because there were no more hours left? I hear someone say—"Weddings are good advertising". If you stop there you miss the very point I am trying to illustrate. It means that the attitude of people is changing towards our interment places. Instinctive in every human heart is a desire and a reaching out for the beautiful things of life. Give the public "beauty" and it will respond a hundred fold.

We already have museum rooms at Forest Lawn. I hope the day will come when we shall have a Forest Lawn Academy of Fine Arts, free to the worthy youth of the Pacific Coast. I hope to persuade sufficient people in this Southland to provide in their wills endowments, whereby the Honor man in the graduating class in this institution or arts may be given three years abroad, with expenses paid. An ambitious program, yes, but I believe basically correct and no more difficult of accomplishment than the ones we laid in 1917, a great many of which have come to pass.

Ladies and gentlemen—this brings me to my last topic—the Memorial Idea. All the figures and facts that I have heretofore quoted have been made with the hope of convincing you that the statements I shall now make are not merely theoretical assumptions but facts born of hard experiences in the interment field. I fancy I see u smile come over the faces of the Californians in this audience, because they have heard me speak on the Memorial Idea before. I am sorry, because I fear they will be bored, for I shall say nothing new—I shall not even attempt a newness because the more familiar I can make this subject to them and to you the more surely can I drive home the intense conviction that I have.

The memorial instinct is one of the oldest and greatest in man. It is this instinct that, moving in practical ways, has created the great art and architectural triumphs of the ages. Few people realize that it was the memorial idea that gave to the world the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, which is acknowledged to be the most beautiful building in the world. Westminster Abbey, the Partheon, the Castel Saint Angelo and practically all of the enduring works of architecture and art that succeeding generations have journeyed around the world to see and admire.

Mr. Will Durant, author of that book "The Mansions of Philosophy" which is being so generally read just now, pays a remarkable tribute to the influence which the memorialization idea has played in art and architecture. He says:

"Architecture began with tombs that housed the dead; the most ancient architectural monuments in the world—the Pyramids—are tombs. Churches began as shrines to the dead and places for worshipping them. Gradually the burial place was taken out into the neighboring ground, but still, in Westminster Abbey, the graves of great ancestors are within the church. From these beginnings came the proud temples raised by the Greeks to Pallas, Athene, and the other gods; and from similar beginnings came those fairest works ever reared by man, the Gothic cathedrals, whose altars, like those early tombs, harbor the relics of the holy dead."

All of our history books, our literature and much of our daily living, is derived from the efforts of the past ages to leave a record of themselves in memorials. Everything passes except that generated by this Memorial Idea. Its spiritual significance defends it against encroachments of a material age, and the cemetery, mausoleum, or crematory that plans such development upon this foundation can rest assured that coming generations will approve. If you hold strongly to the spiritual thought which inspires it, if you but carry the message by the dignity of form and proportion, the refinement of color and detail, by the beauty of the whole, present generations will reward you and future generations admire and preserve.

Do not fall into the error of believing that the average cemetery official can create beauty. I seriously doubt if there is a man in this room capable of truly evidencing the Memorial Idea in form and color. If any of you have that capacity then you have combined in you the qualities of a great architect, a great artist, a great landscape engineer and a great sculptor, because these attainments are needed. You will find that in the long run it will be cheaper to hire those men acknowledged to be "Great" in these lines and to whom God, at birth, gave the power to create beautiful things.

If you plan artistically correct in the beginning you will find that in the end you save money. Look at Paris with its Champs Elysees and intersecting streets, planned by a great architect long before the automobile came into existence. Correct planning meant broad avenues which automatically took care of automobile congestion, whereas today we, in our cities, are spending millions to change these narrow streets.

The financial welfare of every man in this room is dependent upon the elevation of the Memorial Idea, to encourage it is obvious—to degrade it is suicide, and yet that very thing we do every day.

THE CEMETERY MAN, who allows an ugly thing placed or developed within the confines of his grounds, or by word of mouth divests if of its spiritual significance, is helping to destroy the Memorial Idea.

THE MAUSOLEUM BUILDER, who allows any material or form of design to go into his building except that acknowledged by the technical world to be the most lasting and the most beautiful, writes his own epitaph.

THE CREMATION MAN who stops with the ashes (incinerated remains) in his hands, and fails to insist that his client create a memorial for those remains, evidenced by an urn and a niche, or solemn committal to a grave or mausoleum, will, in time, like Samson, pull the house down upon us and himself. God hasten the day when the crematories will take their stand and say "No more incineration without the creation of a memorial—we define the word 'cremation' as including incineration, inurnment and permanent deposition—the three actions are inseparable and indivisible."

THE UNDERTAKER who impresses his clients with the feeling that his portion of attending to the death is the most important, that he is, to all practical purposes the end of the transaction (where the Memorial Idea demands that he be but the entrance door to the Memorial Temple), that Undertaker is the greatest fool of all. His is the greatest opportunity because his clients are in a plastic state, ready to be tuned to the highest call of the Memorial Idea, or molded with a commercial, materialistic, get-it-over form of thought, which results in nothing of lasting benefit to society of his family.

How long—how long will the Interment Association endure the degradation of the Memorial Idea by certain low caliber Funeral Directors? I know of many Funeral Directors who are high class, intelligent, sympathetic and in tune with the Memorial Idea, but I am informed that there are many others whose efforts tend to lower the ethical standards so strived at by the Association of Funeral Directors.

God forbid that I shall be compelled to enter the undertaking business, but I solemnly prophecy this: That the Memorial Park of tomorrow will demand sweeping reforms on the part of the undertaking craft or Memorial Parks will build and develop undertaking establishments of their own. I prophecy, because the end is obvious—it is economically correct. In any other business these consolidations would .have been effected long ago. Service to the public of the future will demand an undertaking establishment in every cemetery—in every mausoleum—in every crematory, where the sorrowing purchaser may go and transact all of his interment preparations at one time with one concern and one individual, in a place where he, his family and friends at the time of the funeral may park their automobiles in grounds where roads provide ample parking area and amidst surroundings of beauty and quiet which soothe and comfort their sorrow. The public of the future will demand that this consolidation be effected to save them the high cost of burying. Then, and not till then, will the Memorial Idea be in position to be brought to its highest fruition.

Let you and me resolve to go back to our various institutions and "play the game", resolved to stand staunch and true to the Memorial Idea; resolved that when we are distracted by the barrage of requests from unthinking owners to allow this or that improvement to their interment space, to stand fast and "play the game."

I have known a few business men who consistently have fought a victorious fight, but I think most of us, with all our good intentions fall back boot by boot until at last, for some reason, we stiffen and hold our own. Hold fast to this Memorial Idea—it will make you free spiritually and financially.

Cemeteries can never be separated from religion. Yesterday, religion was puritanical—it spoke in the terms of the Ten Commandments—in terms of sacrifice—in terms of Calvary.  Today, religion is gladsome, radiant—it speaks in the terms of the Beatitudes—of joyousness and the Smiling Christ. And so, as the cemeteries of yesterday evidenced the religion of yesterday, so must the successful Memorial Park of tomorrow, evidence the religion of today. Cemeteries are the physical expression of the religious spirit of their time.

My belief is that the Interment organization that demonstrates its right to exist, must prepare to serve the living by not only giving them a safe depository for their beloved dead, but a place that will be spiritually uplifting, physically beautiful, its personnel filled with a sincere desire to serve its fellowman. Such a place will truly express the Memorial Idea. Such is the true conception for the "Creation of a Modern Park Cemetery".

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
September 3, 4, 5 and 6, 1929