A developer in Boca Raton, Fla., is expanding the trend of “luxury development” to include a posh cemetery where deceased can be ensconced in marble mausoleums resembling the Western Wall with price tags of up to $700,000. Some are calling the Gardens Memorial Park, developed by entrepreneur David Goldstein, an upscale graveyard, though he insists it is a tribute to life. Such lavish touches as red jade, Jerusalem stone and Greek chandeliers elevate the Gardens above most competitors in the busy South Florida funeral industry.
The air-conditioned mausoleums will function as a peaceful sanctuary for the living — a place for them to reflect, pay respects to memories and admire the imaginative use of opulent material. Several themed burial chambers incorporate inspired uses of art and classical architecture. The “Beit Chaim,” or House of Life, is a sanctuary whose avowed theme is Jewish faith. Marble hallways lead a visitor through a reproduction of Michelangelo’s famed “Creation of Adam” painting (on the wall in this location, not the ceiling), past metalwork gates and into a mini version of the Western Wall, complete with handwritten prayer notes tucked into the cracks.
There’s also a Christian-oriented sanctuary whose religious iconography is chosen for its evocative associations and is meant to serve as a hushed respite where one can meditate on the lives of those who have passed on.
“We’re a celebration-of-life park,” Goldstein told the Forward. “There’s nothing to remind you of sadness. The buildings are extremely comforting. You might think you’re walking into a fine museum.”
Spanning 20 acres, the site comprises extensive botanical gardens, lavish crypts and enough room, eventually, for 235,000 remains (135,000 full-body interments and 100,000 cremated remains). Though still under construction, the development when finished will have cost about $125 million and a dozen years’ work.
It’s no small feat for a man who came into the funeral business by chance. His diverse work experience includes playing in a successful rock band; designing, owning and operating nursing homes, hospitals and hotels; starting a mortgage company, and developing waterfront housing.
The Gardens features such amenities as “couch crypts,” where couples can be buried in side-by-side caskets. There are options for the deceased to be interred in marble mausoleums with the remains of their pets. But the deluxe afterlife is not for the thin-walleted crowd. Prices begin at $1,800 for a single cremation niche and ascend to six figures for private tombs. In addition to burial services, the Gardens serves the community by offering interdenominational prayer sessions, art classes for children and seniors, and events for social causes. Summing the guiding credo of the organization, Goldstein said, “Our philosophy is that everybody is and was an important person and we want to recognize them as such.”