October 28, 2021

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Home Improvement

Houston’s elite pay back a great deal for their homes

8 min read

Position symbols occur in numerous kinds — designer handbags and flashy automobiles, or possibly a family vacation house, yacht or a private jet. The latest fiscal watermark for Houston’s elite will come in an unexpected type: upscale cemetery plots.

They are made with the support of architects and landscape architects and stone imported from close to the entire world, and they are sited as if their “residents” will without end love the perspective of a compact lake, shady trees or modern-day city skyline.

The city’s most appealing — and probable most pricey — ultimate resting position is the 150-year-previous Glenwood Cemetery, the place titans of sector can pay back tens of millions of bucks for a significant plots of land exactly where they and other loved ones users are to be buried.

“I have a standing joke that I expend 50 % of my time in River Oaks and the other 50 percent in Glenwood Cemetery,” reported longtime Houston landscape architect Johnny Steele of Johnny Steele Design and style, who has created cemetery plots for several families, like the late Texans proprietor Bob McNair. “I’m often doing the job on one thing around there. From time to time we go back again to present websites and modify them, and sometimes we enlarge them.”

In simple fact, when Steele, a Louisiana indigenous, commenced his job in this article in 1977, his to start with position was designing a cemetery plot for a customer, producing a structure with brickwork and greenery. Considering the fact that then, his cemetery perform has ranged from plots for two individuals to people that are intended to accommodate generations of an extended loved ones in the equivalent of a smaller park.

As Steele designed beautiful gardens for clients’ homes in the course of the town, they typically questioned him to design their cemetery house when they attained an age that received them wondering of the closing chapter of their life.

The similar is real for the landscape architects and crews at McDugald Steele, which by means of the many years has designed up to 50 cemetery plots for customers. (Johnny Steele is a previous companion there.)

Steele and David Samuelson, a landscape architect at McDugald Steele, mentioned that while there are other lovely cemeteries in the Houston region, none allows the elaborate, individualized plots that Glenwood does.

Lower brick walls, termed “coping,” or walkways in hilly areas mark where by one plot begins and yet another finishes. Marble and granite markers and statuary are other constants. Greater plots may even have gates designed of bronze or iron, with family crests or patterns modeled following people uncovered at owners’ residences.

You are going to obtain flowering crape myrtles, lush magnolia trees and outdated live oaks whose sprawling branches just about contact the ground in older parts of the cemetery.

“More persons undertaking a lot more, that’s correct,” said Dick Ambrus, government director at Glenwood Cemetery. “They see their neighbors undertaking it, and they do it, too. Individuals are nervous to make their place glance excellent, and it will make Glenwood appear extremely great.”

Loaded with historical past

Glenwood Cemetery, 2525 Washington, was organized in 1871 and opened for enterprise the pursuing calendar year as a garden cemetery, a pastoral setting seen more as a park, with people bringing picnic lunches on weekends.

Back again then, Glenwood Cemetery was on the outskirts of the city and Houston hardly had 10,000 people. It followed the new product for parklike cemeteries with curved roads, plenty of trees and shrubs, ponds and even pavilions.

Its rolling slopes and shady trees designed it one particular of the prettiest parts of our swampy metropolis — the River Oaks of cemeteries, so to converse.

Ambrus has been government director there for 38 yrs, viewing some of the far more elaborate plots choose condition on his everyday walks by way of the cemetery.

Solitary burial spaces — a 3-foot-by-10-foot patch of floor that will hold a one casket or three cremation urns — start at $8,500 and operate as large as $50,000. Which is more than $1,600 for each square foot for the choicest plots. Lots of, though, are considerably bigger and designed to be extra elaborate, two or a few tiers with brick stairs and walkways, columbarium partitions with niches for storing cremation urns, fences, sculptures and plantings.

Now, the biggest plot is 5,300 square feet, and there are a handful from 4,000 to 5,000 sq. feet.

Following the land is bought, perform to develop partitions, fences and landscaping can incorporate $40,000 to $1 million to the charge of the filth for these who want additional than a plot of floor and headstone, Samuelson mentioned.

“Location has worth. Let’s say you are sitting down on a mountaintop seeking around a lake — which is the place the benefit is,” Ambrus mentioned. “Glenwood has the luxury of unique heights, so we can differentiate pricing centered on features. Not that the decreased elevations are not lovely some are really wonderful and acquire advantage of the lake and skyline and metropolis.”

People buried there are a who’s who of city record, from Charlotte Allen to John Wortham. In among, there are nicely-identified surnames Baker, Blaffer, Botts, Brown, Cullinan, Farish, Hobby, Rice, Sterling and Wiess. Architect John Staub, coronary heart surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley, actress Gene Tierney Lee, wildcatter Glenn McCarthy and industrialist Howard Hughes — the most visited grave, according to Ambrus — are buried there, also.

Steele tells a tale about Hughes’ grave. It seems that Hughes hired architect William Ward Watkin — an early Houston architect who also was dean of architecture at Rice University, wherever Hughes was briefly a student — to structure a plot for his household. Watkin came again with a staid, traditional prepare that Hughes turned down. His following prepare, incorporating the biblical trumpets of Jericho alongside a curved wall, stuck. Hughes and his moms and dads are all buried there.

Hughes was a mystery in equally daily life and demise, so of study course you will find much more than 1 story about Hughes’ a great deal-visited burial site. Author Pat Nicholson wrote in “William Ward Watkin and Rice College” that Hughes in truth approached Watkin about designing a family plot and presented inspiration in his father’s treasured check out fob, shaped like a saxophone. Watkin explained the cluster of trumpets could be interpreted as the horn that Archangel Gabriel utilized on Judgment Day. Hughes’ mom and dad had been buried there in the early 1920s and sometime in the 1930s, all of the trumpets ended up looted and identified by police at the Port of Houston, headed for Japan.

In all, some 24,000 individuals have been buried in Glenwood’s 88 acres, and Ambrus reported there at present are enough plots for the cemetery to past yet another 60 many years. By means of the decades, Glenwood has acquired adjacent land to extend, and a lot more than 20 years back integrated an additional cemetery to the west, started by the German Culture of Houston.

In extra current yrs, Glenwood dug a lake, fed by Buffalo Bayou and Mother Mother nature, as a resource of drinking water for the cemetery’s irrigation program. Architects and designers also sometimes contemplate sustainability in materials, making use of more Cedar Bayou brick reclaimed from outdated structures in South Houston and Galveston.

Statuary and sculpture, equally new and outdated, can be discovered during, from marble angels perched on graves of beloved daughters and wives to bronze figures moved from backyards to the cemetery. The plots are far more individualized and more like gardens their proprietors had in their possess backyards, and with arranging that occasionally normally takes folks all in excess of the earth to find marble or granite very long in advance of they die.

No 1 goes to Glenwood Cemetery for picnics any additional, but it’s not unconventional to see walkers and cyclists enjoying the protection of its shady streets. Now and then you’ll locate people sitting on benches around the graves of their beloved kinds.

Ambrus ordered his have plot at Glenwood Cemetery 30 many years in the past. “It’s an region tucked absent in the back, form of obscure. I have not finished it out but. I’d improved get likely on that,” he explained.

Unique options

Sue and Bill Whitfield envisioned their last resting position as a stunning yard. With the assistance of mate Jeff Bradley, who has helped them with celebration scheduling for quite a few years, and Samuelson at McDugald Steele, they evaluated their possibilities.

They bought a tiered plot in the facet of a hill, oversaw the fabrication of a Greco-Roman-fashion granite sarcophagus and hand-selected Japanese blueberry trees that would be planted symmetrically on just about every side.

Bill Whitfield died in 2008 at the age of 80, and his coffin was put into the crypt on their plot at Glenwood. When Sue died in early 2020, she was positioned there, too. In the grounds around the sarcophagus, there is home for Bradley and the couple’s four youngsters, Bradley claimed.

“It was extremely significant to Sue that if a person arrived to check out, they could sit on the bench at the rear of the crypt, read the Scriptures and then look all over down the hill and sense like they were in a park in nature rather than a cemetery,” Bradley claimed. “After Invoice passed away, I would just take Sue out there with regularity. We would have a sandwich from Nielsen’s (Deli) and sit on the bench and view the spot.”

Bradley visits the plot by himself now and reported that someday his remains will most likely be buried with his pricey friends’.

An elaborate cemetery plot may perhaps feel like an extravagance, but the Whitfields were being nicely-identified philanthropists, also, serving on a selection of boards and donating to numerous nonprofits in the town. Sue Whitfield was component of the Fondren spouse and children — co-founders of what is now ExxonMobil — and her grandmother lived in the Montrose Boulevard mansion that now is the La Colombe d’Or Hotel.

When Cherie Lindley’s mother turned unwell, Cherie and her partner, John, commenced imagining about stop-of-lifestyle concerns. They drove by way of Glenwood and knew it would be a position wherever they could personalize their cemetery plot.

“I really like a great deal of factors about Glenwood it’s historical and it is known as the cemetery of angels,” Cherie Lindley said. “Our plot is pretty small, but it is going to be gorgeous. We’ll have all white marble and an absent place with a cross.”

“I wanted a even larger back garden with benches and another great deal, but my husband explained, ‘No, we could invest in a property with the revenue we’re shelling out. Let’s stay with the just one we have and give our funds to individuals who need it,’” Cherie Lindley claimed of the charge of the land and improvements. “I really like my scaled-down area.”

diane.cowen@chron.com

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