One-stop 'Death Care'

URBAN LANDSCAPE

November 17, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Loudon Park Cemetery was one of the first in Maryland to offer a "community mausoleum" with seven levels of crypts. It was one of the first to establish its own "upright memorialization" department to sell monuments and statuary. And it has been a pioneer in the trend of "preplacing" tombstones on graves before people die.

But cemetery President R. Ted Nuckolls said he won't consider Loudon Park a "full-service" cemetery until it gets one more element:

A $2.3 million, two-story funeral home is now under construction near the Wilkens Avenue entrance to the 140-year-old cemetery, final resting spot for H. L. Mencken, Mary Pickersgill and other well-known Baltimoreans.

When the building is complete next spring, Loudon Park will be the first cemetery in Baltimore to have a funeral home on its grounds -- and one of only two in Maryland.

It will be a dream come true for Mr. Nuckolls, who has presided over the cemetery's growth for more than 20 years.

Mr. Nuckolls believes that offering funerals and burials from one location is the wave of the future in the "death care" industry, because it is more convenient for families and can help reduce costs.

"It seems to be what families want," he said during a recent tour.

"In this day and age, people like shopping centers where all the stores they need are in one location, and they don't have to make a number of stops. . . . One stop does it all."

A past president of the American Cemetery Association, Mr. Nuckolls explained that cemeteries and funeral homes have traditionally been operated as separate businesses in America. But he believes it makes sense to put them together.

The first cemetery in America to build a funeral home on the premises was California's Forest Lawn, which built one 25 years ago. Soon, other West Coast cemeteries followed suit. Then the trend spread eastward.

Today, 600 of the nearly 80,000 cemeteries in the United States have funeral homes on their grounds, and the number is growing.

One result of the trend has been fewer funeral processions through crowded city streets, Mr. Nuckolls said.

Loudon Park's 24,000-square-foot funeral home will be independent and nonsectarian. Clad in brick with granite trim, it will feature a series of reposing rooms and chapels and will employ the most advanced embalming processes.

Harbor View Construction Co. of Baltimore is building the funeral home, and the Doody Group of New Orleans is the architect.

Loudon Park was acquired two years ago by an affiliate of Stewart Enterprises, a New Orleans-based chain that is considered the third-largest "death care provider" in America.

Stewart, which also owns Druid Ridge Cemetery in Baltimore, has several cemeteries with funeral homes on the premises.

More than 200,000 people have been interred at Loudon Park, the second-oldest cemetery in Baltimore, after Green Mount Cemetery.

With nearly 400 acres, Loudon Park has land and above-ground crypts to accommodate another 200,000 interments; 900 to 1,000 people are laid to rest there every year.

Mr. Nuckolls said the new funeral home will offer services at Loudon Park or elsewhere, including churches or synagogues. People will still be able to use another funeral home and be buried in Loudon Park, and vice versa, he added.

Nationwide, someone dies every 15 seconds, and a child is born every eight seconds, Mr. Nuckolls said.

The average cost of a funeral is $4,000, according to the National Association of Funeral Directors. The cost of interment at Loudon Park can range from $500 for a plot to $500,000 for a private mausoleum.

Although costs have not been set for the new funeral home, Mr. Nuckolls said, he hopes to make Loudon Park competitive with others.

"We're not trying to control the market. We're just trying to add to the services we provide," he said.

"The American way of life has always been freedom of choice, and it should be no different in death."

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