by Michael R. Allen
People often ask me about the history of the old, boarded-up funeral home at 1221 N. Grand near Page. This is indeed a curious old building, and it wears clearly its layers of construction history. There is the old house, built in 1895 and tucked away behind the later kinda-sorta Colonial Revival front. The front itself shows its seams, so to speak: there is the 1930s-era first floor, with the scrolled broken pediment entrance and prominent keystones. Then there is the second floor, with slightly different tapestry brick and flat-arch window openings with unmistakable post-World War II metal windows. There is a boxy northern wing and the graceful gated archway on the south, from which a funeral procession would once begin. Tying the whole thing together is a projecting gabled portico, replete with columns topped by authentic Ionic capitals with genuine volutes. There are terra cotta urns on each side of the portico up top.
This is a pretty classy hybrid building, and its history is likewise dignified. This is the former home of Ted Foster and Sons Funeral Home, which had passed its 75th year of business here when it abruptly closed in 2008. When the African-American Foster family took over the old house around 1933, this neighborhood had changed a lot. Now known as JeffVanderLou, this was then called Yeatman or Grand Prairie and the residential population had shifted to being largely African-American. As African Americans migrated to the city, the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood was overwhelmed and African-Americans began moving farther north up toward Cass Avenue.
The Foster family were entrepreneurs and ran a strong business until foreclosure in 2008. the circumstances of the closure remain vague, and the building is now empty awaiting its next life. Perhaps renewed interest in developing this part of time will be a rising tide for this curious dry-docked vessel.