Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

As much as I love historicist styles, at some point, it becomes clear the jig is up and it’s time to move on.

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Here, for example, we have Queen of Heaven Mausoleum, begun in 1956, and first opened in spring of 1957. It’s a French Gothic styled building. Well, French Gothic Revival. Okay, Neo-French Gothic Revival, since Gothic had already been “revived” as an architectural style about a hundred years earlier. When it was built, World War II was 11 years in the past, televisions were becoming widespread, and Sputnik and the Interstate Highway would be coming down the pike very shortly. Art Deco and Streamline had already come and mostly gone.

I mean, really. Who was building French castles in 1956?

So I wasn’t expecting much when I ventured inside the place on a recent Sunday afternoon. Faux Gothic archways would surely get old after a little while, right?

Probably so, but that’s not what I found.

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Inside its historicist shell, Queen of Heaven contains a cross-section of contemporary artistic thought circa 1960, and it is glorious indeed. 35 different kinds of marble are used in the interior finishes, and its corridors are lined with a dazzling array of contemporary religious art and iconography. Stained glass, metalwork, wood carving, stone sculpture, paintings, and mosaic tile are integrated throughout the building. No one style dominates, but nearly all of it is touched by the stylized trends of the 1950s.

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

And there is a ton of it. Queen of Heaven, built in three stages from 1956 through 1964, is the largest Catholic mausoleum in the world, and it is vast. One contemporary account puts the three floors of corridors at over a mile in total length, and it’s not hard to believe.

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Much of the artwork (if not all) may be attached the Studios of Daprato Statuary Company, with offices in New York and Chicago. Daprato Studios ran an ad in the Chicago Tribune in 1961, proudly proclaiming their role in the vast undertaking. The Archdiocese also advertised the new facility on the same day. Later paintings were completed by Albert Henselmann and Italo George Botti.

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Even the furniture gets in on the act. A series of lamps, mini-couches, armchairs, and end tables cover a miniature spectrum of design ideas. Note the dot-outlined flames on the lampshades above, for example, and the embossed building images on these chairs:

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

The building itself was designed in stages, with the Gothic central wing and its landmark tower coming first. Nothing in my research attributes the building to a particular firm, but it’s a fair bet that Detroit architectural firm Harley, Ellington and Day was responsible, as they did the subsequent west and south wings. The central wing opened in spring of 1957, with room for 7,000 burials, 3 shrines, a main chapel and 4 supplemental chapels. Its $4,000,000 construction cost was covered entirely by advance burial purchases.

The central wing was followed in 1960 by the Queen of Angels wing to the south, designed by Harley, Ellington and Day in a slightly modernized Gothic style (HED was also responsible for the Neo-Formalist Resurrection Mausoleum in nearby Justice, IL.) The large exterior statues on the two side wings were designed by sculptor Ferenc Varga of Detroit, and executed by Gaetano and Alfred Roselli, Italian-born immigrants who worked on the Tribune Tower decades earlier.

A third wing, Queen of All Saints, was designed by recently renamed firm of Harley, Ellington, Cowin & Stirton and completed in 1964, bringing the total capacity of the building to 30,000 interments.

45 years later, it’s only 3/4ths full, a testimony to its vast size.

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

The mausoleum is intended to function as two buildings in one; the dead are contained within their own structure, with its own ventilation system. Despite that, more than a whiff of embalming fluid pervades the air. I spent nearly two hours exploring, and by the time I left I was quite ready to breath fresh air.

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

But I left with regret. Queen of Heaven Mausoleum is a treasure trove of Midcentury art and design, some of it among the best and most creative I’ve seen anywhere. Some of the central pieces, just to cite one example, are these semi-stained glass bas relief sculptures. They appear in key points along the building, such as the main chapel, whose central window looms over the busy intersection of Wolf and Roosevelt. They seem to be executed in a hard painted plastic, with slits, cuts, and notches allowing strategic slits of light through. They are two-sided; the outside of the window gets a fully realized sculpture as well. Unlike many stained glassed designs, there is no front or back to these works. The sculptures are artwork in their own right, even when viewed under full light. In the dim light of the mausoleum, with the daylight streaming through them, they become something else, dark, backlit, haunting, foreboding, and magnificent… like the rest of the mausoleum.

Queen of Heaven Mausoleum

These photos and more may be seen at my Flickr account.

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Resurrection Mausoleum

One of the crowning Midcentury glories of Chicago’s inner suburbs is 1969’s Resurrection Mausoleum, in the small southwestern ville of Justice, Illinois.

Resurrection Mausoleum

The colonnaded arcade and white coloration mark it as a product of the New Formalism, a short-lived 1960s Modernist style that found inspiration in the forms and proportions of Classical antiquity. Its most famous practitioners included Edward Durrell Stone and (for a time) Phillip Johnson, but it could be found in watered-down form across the new suburban landscape. Given its solid grounding in 1960s elegance, I dubbed it “Onassis Modern” long before I learned its proper name.

Resurrection Mausoleum

The polished white facades of New Formalism often proved to be empty promises, but this is a building that delivers. Behind those simple white columns rises two stories of faceted stained glass, wrapping the considerable length of the building, and telling the story of the Bible in blazing color and light. At some 23,000 square feet and 600 feet in length, is purported to be the largest installation of stained glass in the world. The wall was designed by the Conrad Pickel Studios; four years after design work began, its installation was completed in 1971.

Resurrection Mausoleum

Resurrection Mausoleum

The familiar scenes are there — Adam and Eve in the Garden with the dinosaurs, the flood, Moses smashing the tablets, the Crucifixtion, and many more.

…wait. Dinosaurs?

The figures are impressive in their sheer number alone, but they also have a hypnotic element of the surreal. By the time the story reaches the modern era and the prophesies of end times, the subject matter has become truly and wonderfully bizarre.

When, for example, was the last time you saw a radio antenna rendered in stained glass?

Resurrection Mausoleum

How ’bout a satellite dish?

Resurrection Mausoleum

And so it continues: jet airliners, rocket ships. The subject matter leaves behind the typical church fare long before it reaches the climactic nuclear mushroom cloud.

Resurrection Mausoleum

The remainder of the interior pales before the allegorical onslaught of the walls, but still provides little gems of design here and there.

Resurrection Mausoleum

Resurrection Mausoleum

Resurrection Mausoleum

Like all mausoleums, there’s a certain surreality to it, with solemnical design vying with homey lamps and couches in a bid to dominate the mood. Ultimately, however, it all pales before the unfathomably huge stained glass walls.

Resurrection Mausoleum

The cemetery itself is sparse, rural and vast, perhaps most notable for the deer that roam freely through its grounds and are hardly phased by humans walking right up to them.

Too cute.

Link: Resurrection Mausoleum official site

Graceland Cemetery

It’s not exactly obscure, but Graceland Cemetery, located along Clark on the city’s north side, does constitute a kind of urban dead zone (ha!), a massive bump separating Wrigleyville, Uptown and Andersonville. A brick wall topped with barbed wire surrounds the 119 acres of gently rolling greenscape, hinting at a history of needing to protect itself from the crush of the city around it. Within the walls, however, awaits a pastoral Victorian funerary park quite at odds with the roaring L to its east and the urban hustle all around.

Graceland Cemetery

Within, many famous Chicago citizens are interred, including quite a few of architectural interest: Louis Sullivan; his 1960s champion, preservationist Richard Nickel; Mies van der Rohe; Daniel Burnham; his partner John Wellborn Root; and many others.

Graceland Cemetery

Sullivan left his mark on the place with two tombs, including the famous Getty Tomb; the rest of the headstones, memorials and mausoleums are likewise rich in ornament and style, if not originality.

More than anything, it’s an oddity among the furiously insistent urban madness of Chicago, which historically has had a tendency to devour whatever non-commercial entity got in the way of its relentless development.

And it’s still an active cemetery! For as little as $2,600, you too can be laid to rest there, in the considerable empty land that still remains.