The Schoen Funeral Home: A Place of History and Characters

In November of 2016, Preservation in Print ran an article showcasing the new chapel addition to the Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home at 3827 Canal Street. While researching the building for the feature, it became apparent that the building and the Schoen family business had far more stories to tell.

The building, as it stands today, is stylistically aligned with its 1931 renovation. Prior to that time, the Spanish Revival-style mansion that we see today was an extremely ornate wood-frame Queen Anne style residence. The addition of the stucco and the style change occurred under the ownership of National Undertakers, Inc., shortly after they purchased the building from Mr. and Mrs. Uriah J. Virgin. The Virgin family ownership spanned 25 years and during that time they greatly increased the property size in order to accommodate greenhouses and garden lots to supply their wholesale florist business, which flourished as one of the main suppliers to the various Mardi Gras krewes.

Many give credit to the home historically being that of “The Flower King” Uriah J. Virgin, but it was actually his wife, Mary Ellen Rehm Virgin, who purchased the building, with her own funds, in 1906 from the widow Cecilia Maupay Pitard. The widow’s late husband Gustave Pitard, Sr. owned and operated a number of highly successful hardware stores in New Orleans under the name — Pitard Saxton Hardware Company.

When the Gustave Pitard purchased the grand residence in 1896, he did so from his in-laws the Tanneret’s; Cecilia Pitard was the sister of Lorenza Elizabeth Maupay Tanneret. It was under the ownership of Lorenza and her husband Francis Raoul Tanneret, an esteemed fencing champion and notary, that the building may have been constructed, because when sold to the Pitard Family, the property carried the name “Tanneret Cottage.” However, that title can also be linked to Pierre Emile Tanneret, father of Francis Raoul, whom he inherited the property from in 1894. When, in 1892, Pierre Emile Tanneret purchased the property from Dr. Raymond Sauvant it was without improvements – giving further evidence that the grand sprawling mansion and stables were constructed during the Tanneret period of ownership.

In 1931, when the building transitioned stylistically, it also transitioned in function, going from an impressive single-family residence to a modern and state-of-the-art funeral home. After only three years, National Undertakers sold the property to E.J. Ranson & Sons, Inc. a funeral service provider who also operated a location at 1024 Elysian Fields Ave. Judging from their length of ownership, expanding their holdings may not have been a wise business move for E.J. Ranson & Sons at the time. In January 1935, it seems that they had planned on selling and converting the Canal Street property into a maternity hospital, a plan that was derailed by neighbors who petitioned, stating that it would “seriously depreciate the value of their properties,” according to a Times-Picayune article. So, due to the concerns of neighbors who would rather have the building occupied by the dead than by the living, the property remained within the hands of a funeral business when it was sold to the Schoen family in 1936.

By 1936 and the purchase of the Canal Street property, Jacob Schoen & Son was already a well-respected leader within the funeral business of New Orleans. The Schoen family can trace their roots within the business back to 1874 when German immigrants Jacob Schoen and Henry Frantz purchased the undertaking establishment of Jacob Klees on North Peters Street in the French Quarter from his widow. Prior to that purchase, Frantz and Schoen had already co-owned and operated a successful carriage and livery business.

In 1885, Frantz & Schoen expanded their partnership when they purchased Phoenix Stables, the livery and undertaking business of coroner Dr. John Grayer, located at 35-39 Elysian Fields Avenue on what was earlier the site of Bernard De Marigny’s lumber mill. In 1898, Jacob Schoen bought out Henry Frantz’s share of the company and went into partnership with his son Philip, resulting in the Jacob Schoen and Son company name that we know today. With five generations employed within the funeral profession and numerous business locations operated within and outside of the city, the Schoen family continues to build upon their commitment of caring for the departed and extending their legacy within New Orleans.