Among the towering monuments and notable tombs that fill Buffalo’s historic Forest Lawn Cemetery lies a crypt that stands out from the rest. The only memorial burial chamber ever designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Blue Sky Mausoleum was intended to be the final resting place of a longtime friend of the famed architect. Yet the multi-crypt sits nearly empty today.
The tomb was commissioned by businessman Darwin Martin, a close friend and lifelong patron of Wright. Martin’s dream was to have all of his family spending eternity together in the sprawling green Forest Lawn Cemetery, which was described by a reporter at its opening in 1850 as “one of the most lovely resting places of the dead in the country.”
During their 30-year friendship, Wright designed not only Martin’s company headquarters, but several homes for him and other members of his family. In the 1920s, when Martin began to think about his final resting place, it was only fitting that he would have Wright design his very last residence.
Wright used his experience designing homes for Martin to create Blue Sky, using many of the same elements, notably a pier-and-cantilever construction and his trademark organic architecture: making sure the building enhanced and worked with, not against, its natural surroundings.
Blue Sky’s design was unusual for monuments at the time, with low-set stone work instead of a tall obelisk. The granite memorial overlooks a pond and contains 24 crypts laid out like steps descending to the water’s edge. An inverted mausoleum, the structure has no ceiling or walls. As Wright once described, “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?”
At the top of the tomb there are benches and large stone etched with an excerpt from a letter from Wright to Martin. It’s a touching monument to their friendship—unfortunately, the mausoleum was not built in either man’s lifetime.
Enter 1929. The year’s stock market crash put plans to build Blue Sky on hold indefinitely. Martin, whose fortune was estimated at between two and three million dollars, suddenly had nothing. However, Wright’s drawings, notes and correspondence about Blue Sky were preserved, and in 2004, Forest Lawn Cemetery built it with the help of an architect trained by Wright himself. The plans for Blue Sky were retired at the project’s completion, which means that the design used to construct the memorial, won’t ever be used again making Wright’s design the only one of its kind.
Only a few of the 24 crypts are in use to this day, and the others are available for purchase inside the mausoleum.