Figure 1. John Williams mausoleum, West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Photo: author.

This is a wonderful complex (figures 1, 2). Of course, you can guess that it dates to between about 1890 (Sullivanesque style) and maybe 1920 (crisp neoclassical elements like wreaths). The online records of West Laurel Hill Cemetery do not much help, but for what it’s worth, their opinion is that the John Williams buried here died in 1907.

Figure 2. John Williams mausoleum complex. West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Detail: monogram. Photo: author.
Figure 3. John Williams mausoleum, West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Detail: Sullivanesque arch over door. Photo: author.

These florals and the broad, fat arch (figure 3) are taken right from the playbook of the great Louis H. Sullivan. As in: direct, extensive quotation.

Here’s the model for our mausoleum, Sullivan’s 1890 Getty mausoleum in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery (figure 4). You can see how much the Bala Cynwyd mausoleum owes to the Chicago one in its boxy massing, lid-like roof, and similar (if with different emphasis) carved bands around the arched doorway.

Figure 4. Louis Sullivan, Getty mausoleum, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, IL. 1890. Photo: David Gleason. CC by-SA 1.0, 2.0, and 2.5. Wikimedia Commons.

Our architect tried his (or her?) best with a budget far less than that of the Sullivan mausoleum. If it hadn’t been manifestly expensive in absolute terms, I’d call ours a cheap knockoff. See how costs have been kept down by reducing the size of the structure and the amount and complexity of carved ornament.

And have a look at a Sullivan masterpiece, the 1892 Wainwright mausoleum in Bellefontaine Cemetery in Saint Louis.

Figure 5. Louis Sullivan, Wainwright mausoleum, Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, MO, 1892. Photo: Viking55. CC by-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

You can see how the Williams mausoleum has borrowed the protruding masses in front with dados framing the steps of the St. Louis mausoleum. The St. Louis mausoleum has benches to either side forming an exhedra: The Williams porch, though smaller, also has benches.

John Williams mausoleum, West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Detail: lousy door. Photo: author.

The Williams mausoleum door is pretty mediocre. Still, you can spot the horizontal voids which are Sullivan trademarks in the two mausolea illustrated above.

I’d be terribly surprised if no one has noticed these rather obvious models for the Williams mausoleum. The interwebs point to no treatment of Sullivan’s influence in Philadelphia analogous to the very useful Classicizing Philadelphia website, which highlights classical models. Philadelphia architectural handbooks omit West Laurel Hill categorically, since it is not actually in Philadelphia. So until I find someone who’s gotten here first and can give credit, I propose these design sources for the Williams mausoleum.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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