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Christine Barr

Funeral Homes:
History & Preservation

West Town Funeral Home: Anzilotti – Bacigalupo, Chicago. Photo by Christine Barr, 2003.


          Funeral homes in the United States have a short history. As recently as the early twentieth century, wakes and funeral services were still being held in private residences. The transition to laying the deceased out to be viewed at a separate structure expressly for that purpose didn’t begin until the 1880s. By the 1890s and early 1900s, buildings were being built solely for the purpose of holding wakes and funeral services. These built funeral homes are the focus of my thesis.

            Funeral homes, also known as funeral parlors or chapels, are an easily identifiable architectural feature on the urban landscape. Architecturally evident on these earlier structures are ethnic, religious and domestic decoration both on the exterior and interior. The interiors also demonstrate the arrangement of the floor plan and decorations for the grieving traditions and customs of the community that used the establishment. By the 1930s, funeral homes began to be built using new and popular styles in their design and construction like Art Deco and Art Moderne.

         In a city of neighborhoods, like Chicago, built funeral establishments not only document shifts in the technology, science and population, but also mark a path of ethnic and religious settlement and migration. As Chicago’s neighborhoods become gentrified or settled by new ethnic groups and as property taxes increase, funeral establishments have to adapt, modernize, relocate or close. I am conducting case studies to examine current preservation issues such as gentrification, the need for cultural adaptation and structural modernization. I plan to look into cases where I can find examples of sensitive modernizations, additions and adaptive reuse schemes and examine how these can prevent teardowns and severe alterations. Through these case studies and the historic context I will develop, this thesis can aid in the preservation of this unique resource. BIOGRAPHY

           Christine Barr received her BA in Philosophy from Northeastern Illinois University in 2002. She has worked as an intern at the Glessner House Museum and plans to complete her internship with a study trip to Weishan, Yunnan, China in May 2004.


Thesis Advisor: Anthony Rubano, Instructor, Historic Preservation;
Project Designer, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

Thesis Reader: Shahrzad Mahootian, Professor of Linguistics and Associate Chair of the Linguistics, Philosophy and Anthropology Departments, Northeastern Illinois University


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