It’s historic, unique and ornate — and this former downtown funeral home could be yours
Designed by the prominent firm of Wing and Mahurin and built in 1893 as the home of attorney Robert Clark Bell and his wife Clara, the limestone Romanesque building at 420 W. Wayne St. has been a funeral home for the past 92 years. Now one of downtown’s most beautiful and historic structures could be yours.
If you have $699,000 to spend, that is.
Klaehn, Fahl, Melton’s downtown funeral home at 420 W. Wayne St. closed around Oct. 1, with operations transferred to other local facilities, according to Taron Smith, marketing director for Dignity Memorial, parent company of Klaehn Fahl Melton. Even though revitalization is bringing more people downtown, that hasn’t necessarily translated into more downtown funeral business, and the old home lacks the elevator and other features needed to make it easily accessible to people with disabilities. Parking is also scarce.
“It’s a beautiful building, one-of-kind and a staple of downtown, but this will allow us to better serve the needs of families,” Smith said.
The three-story building contains 14,130 square feet and features original hand-carved woodwork, fixtures and other historic features. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and designated a local historic district in 1995, meaning it can’t be torn down or have its exterior altered without the city’s permission.
Wing and Mahurin was a leading architectural firm in the late 19th and early 20th century, having designed Old City hall and several large churches and homes, including industrialist John Bass’ “Brookside,” which is now part of the University of Saint Francis Campus — which operates an adjacent downtown campus and has expressed interest in the building in the past, Smith said. The Bell house, according to the city’s historic preservation department, “features a steep, slate roof with parapetted gables, a variety of arched and leaded glass windows, numerous example of intricate stone carving and thick limestone walls.”
Robert Bell was elected to the Indiana Senate in 1874 and 1880 and occasionally hosted famed politician and orator William Jennings Bryan, who gave speeches from the porch. Clara was involved in the creation of the Fort Wayne Art School and co-founded the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. As a result, the city has determined, the building is significant both historically and architecturally. In 1935 an addition designed by A.M. Strauss was added to the west side of the building. Strauss, too, was prominent in his day, designing the Embassy Theatre and Lincoln Tower, among other well-known structures.
When the Klaehn Funeral Home bought the house in 1926, the purchase price was $50,000.