Twenty-six years after the Forest Lawn Memorial Park was incorporated, plans were developed to erect a chapel to fulfill the full service commitment of the Forest Lawn Cemetery Association. The architect was John McDonald of Omaha and the general contractor was Walter Peterson of Omaha. The building is 40 x 64 feet in ground dimensions. The total cost of the building was $103,000.
The Masonic Grand Lodge of Nebraska laid the Corner Stone, with a silver trowel, December 27, 1911. Grand Master Gibbons delivered the principal address of the afternoon. Secretary White had charge of the laying of the stone. In the copper box of the stone was placed a copy of the proceeding of the last meeting of the grand lodge of Nebraska Masons, proceeding of the last lodge meeting of the Knights Templar and the history of the Masonic Lodge of Nebraska. Copies of the Omaha papers of current date, printed matter pertaining to the cemetery, a list of the officers and trustees of the Association and coins of the day were also placed in the stone.
The Colorado-Yule Marble Company of Marble, Colorado, furnished the marble work. The entire exterior, including the front of the receiving vault, is of St. Cloud granite, with green tile roofing, the interior finish being of marble mosaic and bronze. The doors and frames for the art glass windows are of bronze. The treatment is unique in that to the marble, which is of selected veined white, mosaic inserts of rich ornament in gold and mother of pearl have been added, while the main walls and ceiling throughout have been filled with mosaic ornament in rich and appropriate schemes of color. The main walls have additional symbolism of growing trees, suggestive of the Tree of Life, with its flora and foliage filling the upper part of each panel. The windows are treated in an architectural scheme of classic detail, so as to give abundant light to the interior and show effectively the rich scheme of color in the wall decoration, the highest note of which is found in the four standing angel figures on the transept wall. The art glass and mosaic work was by J & R Lamb of New York
The floor has been designed in a combination of marble and tile, the tile being made especially for the building in a glazed white with an insert color of green.
Two large Colorado-Yule marble seats were designed for the right and left transept, and for the service a special desk and chair, both in marble, with enriched inserts of gold and mother of pearl are placed in the center of the apse. This marble furniture which is a new use of marble for such purposes, and the four marble electroliers complete the scheme of the interior enrichment, excepting the quotation in the frieze of the main auditorium, designed in two-fold form, so that it can be read as one enters and leaves the chapel. In letters in high relief, treated in pure gold, it reads as follows: "Until the day break and shadows flee away".
The lower level of the chapel contains the crematory and 50 glass front door niches for permanent retention of human cremains. The chapel was heated with a hot water boiler and heat registers. This unit was retired in 1990 after installation of a gas forced air heat furnace.
In 1990 the chapel underwent major renovation. All the stained glass windows were removed, re-leaded and replaced. New external plate glass windows were installed to protect the stained glass windows. Hand safety rails were installed inside and out. The tile roof was removed and a new sub-roof was installed and the tile replaced. Caps were installed over the two chimneys. External copper down spouts were added to the gutters to replace the damaged internal down spouts. The entire external part of the chapel was tuckpointed. All this renovation cost $65,771.00, which is almost as much as the original cost of the chapel.
The first funeral service held in the chapel was Mr. A. J. Manderson September 15, 1914. He was a railroad man and brother to General Charles F. Manderson. He was cremated September 15, 1914 and the cost of the cremation was $40.00. The first wedding service was held June 1984 in the chapel for Mr. and Mrs. Scott Labs, son of then General Manager Clarence A. Labs.
The chapel also has a columbarium attached to the lower level. There are 24 temporary receiving vaults that are for the temporary storage of transitory bodies pending the final disposition decisions. It also contains 210 niches for the permanent retention of human cremains.
The crematory equipment was designed and built by the Jarvis Engineering Company of Boston. The two retorts are rectangular and approximately six feet wide, 12 feet long and 7 feet high. The entire specially made firebrick was molded from a clay found only in western Pennsylvania. The retorts are encased in red brick masonry and cement. Solid cast bronze doors have been placed at the front of the retorts. Sold cast bronze doors on the front of the retorts were of a design conforming to the other doors of the building. The crematory was completed in 1913. The first cremation was the body of Andrew Larson, who before his death requested that his body be the first to be cremated in Nebraska. On June 12th, 1913, it was. The retorts were originally oil fueled and later were converted to gas. The two retorts were retired from service in February 1996, to give way to the new state of the art retort that was located at the service building.
The elevator was specially constructed and installed by
the Otis Elevator Company of Chicago. The elevator consists of a plunger,
underneath a platform, operating through a stuffing box into a cylinder.
The power plant consists of a street railway type closed air compressor,
with governor, air tank reservoir and oil tank reservoir. This is located
at a convenient distance from the hatchway and in a small tank there is
a supply of oil equal to the displacement of the plunger with necessary
reserve. The air reservoir is normally charged at 90 pounds pressure. When
lifting the load, air is discharged into the oil tank, forcing oil under
the plunger, thus raising the load, and when descending, surplus air in
the oil tank is discharged through a muffler, the oil being forced back
into the tank and used over again. The elevator platform floor is designed
to correspond with the chapel floor, being finished in the same tile design
and forms part of the chapel floor when the elevator is not in service.
It was taken out of service when the retorts were retired from service.