Palo Alto's first funeral home, a 114-year city stalwart, will close its doors for good on Oct. 31, sources at Roller & Hapgood & Tinney confirmed on Monday, Oct. 28.
The closure is a sign of the changing times and changing funeral industry, local mortuary owners said this week.
The family-owned business, which has been located at 980 Middlefield Road since 1951, will "evaporate" as an entity as of Nov. 1, said Melodie Sample, Roller's office manager. Its two remaining employees will be looking for work.
Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer bought the property on Oct. 7 for an undisclosed sum, said Jim Spangler, president of Spangler Mortuaries, which purchased Roller's business assets.
Mortuary owner Paul Roller commented on the sale in a press release Monday: "The property value in Palo Alto is so great it can no longer justify use as a funeral home."
The business was established in 1899 by Josiah Roller, who organized its first funeral. A retired cabinet maker, he was often called to craft coffins and he agreed to arrange the funeral for a friend whose father had died in Palo Alto.
In those days, bodies were transported by horse and buggy to San Francisco or San Jose for burial. Josiah Roller agreed to make the arrangements in exchange for help establishing a funeral home in Palo Alto, which was thought to be long overdue. The business grew rapidly, as it was the only mortuary between the two major cities. Josiah's son, Arthur, took over the business in 1906, and Frank Hapgood joined as partner in 1912.
Paul Roller's desire to sell the property has been known for some time. A June 26, 2012, a city staff report eyed the 1.16-acre property as a potential site for as many as 21 residences, and it noted the property owner had expressed interest in redeveloping the site.
Roller stated the most important priority for the funeral home was to find a family-run business that shared its same values.
"It turned out that we didn't have to look far," he said of Spangler.
Spangler, based in Mountain View, has taken over the Roller & Hapgood name and its 114 years of records, which it will maintain in a database for anyone who seeks information regarding a loved one, Jim Spangler said.
He has been helping Roller to close out the business for the past two months and has brought in as his funeral director Tom Pappas to help with the transition. Pappas is a well-known funeral director in Palo Alto and Menlo Park and has worked with Roller Hapgood for 50 years, Spangler said.
He agreed that land prices are changing the local funeral industry.
Property values are such that no funeral home could afford to buy the Roller & Hapgood property, he said.
Spangler closed his Menlo Park mortuary in 2009 because of increased rent, he said.
The way people bury their loved ones has also changed, leading funeral homes to create a different business model. People don't often choose to hold full-service ceremonies at mortuaries; instead, they opt to have services at churches or gravesides, he said.
The new model is to perhaps have an office space in which to meet with clients. Since closing the Menlo Park office, Spangler's staff meets with families at their homes to make arrangements, and the firm has arrangements with some local churches.
Palo Alto's remaining funeral home, ironically, opened in 2010. Alta Mesa Funeral Home is located at Alta Mesa Cemetery on Arastradero Road near Foothill Expressway.
Although Roller & Hapgood & Tinney will close, families can continue to use the firm's phone number or visit its website, Spangler said. As of Nov. 1, persons wanting to view family funeral records and consult on pre-arrangements made with Roller & Hapgood can contact Spangler at 650-967-5546. Spangler has offices in Los Altos, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
Mayer did not return requests for comment.