Montclair-Lucania Funeral Home

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Montclair-LucaniaIn 1933, a pair of young Sicilian brothers — the oldest not even 21 — decided to start a business, unaware they’d create a legacy as well, and touch countless Italian Americans in the Chicago area.

Vincent and Joseph Lucania opened their first funeral home in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood at 409 W. North Ave. The business grew, and Vincent moved west in the 1950s, following the migration of other Italian Americans to the area. He opened Montclair-Lucania Funeral Home’s current location at 6901 W. Belmont Ave. in 1957, and there it stayed. The venerable funeral home marked its 80th anniversary in June.

“All my life I’ve been in the business,” says Vincent’s son Joseph, 69. “My father started when he was 18, and my uncle when he was 20. In the 1930s, people had wakes in their homes, and funeral homes were not used much. But coming into the 1940s, that started to change.”

The Lucania brothers remodeled their North Avenue facility in the 1940s, building four large chapels and installed air conditioning — unheard of back then.

While Vincent’s brother stayed at the North Avenue location (he ran it until he passed away in 1985), Vincent moved just three blocks east of Elmwood Park. Montclair-Lucania occupies a city block, and can accommodate more than 100 cars.

Inside, it resembles a luxury hotel, thanks to a renovation completed at the start of 2013. “It took more than a year to do, and we’re talking about furnishings, rugs, drapery, painting … everything,” Lucania says.

With the renovation, a new downstairs lounge area now contains two brand-new Samsung refrigerators, two food preparation islands and ample seating space. The lobby is the soul of elegance, with its coffee-colored walls and plentiful light, though some things haven’t changed.

As one of the area’s largest funeral facilities, Montclair-Lucania can accommodate two services at once, with the two parties utilizing separate entrances and exits, never coming in contact with each other. It has two heating systems, 80 tons worth of air conditioning and a main chapel that holds more than 400 people when fully opened. (Montclair-Lucania has a total of seven chapel spaces with a total capacity of 600.)

And the Blossom Room still contains twin wall murals Vincent Lucania commissioned in the 1950s that depict winding branches bearing fragile white blossoms. He hired an Italian artist, remembered today by his signature, “Desario.”

Speaking of paintings, Vincent’s portrait hangs high in the lobby. He passed away in 1983, but for his son, it’s very much as though his father is still in the building, watching over the magnificent edifice with four Corinthian columns out front.

“He put everything he had into it — his ideas, his designs,” Joseph says. “He was very much oriented to the families he served; it was a priority to treat them like family. He wanted to give the Italian people the best that could be offered. The hope is to continue, keep the tradition going and take care of the families we serve today.”

6901 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago, Ill. 60634

About Lou Carlozo

Lou Carlozo is award-winning journalist who spent 20 years reporting for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune. He began writing for Fra Noi in 2007, and claims maternal and paternal southern Italian lineage. The monthly Lou&A columnist and a music reviewer/writer, his work has appeared in Reuters, Aol, The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and news outlets around the world. In 1993, he was a Pulitzer Prize team-reporting finalist for his contributions to the Tribune’s “Killing Our Children” series. He resides in Chicago with his wife of 21 years, a hospital chaplain, and their teenage son and daughter.

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