NORTH TONAWANDA – As North Tonawanda’s oldest funeral home, Wattengel Funeral Home can trace its history back to 1894 – to the days of horse-drawn hearses.
In today’s world, the words “handicapped accessible” and “wireless Internet access” are part of the common vocabulary of the industry.
The new Wattengel location, which opened in January at 533 Meadow Drive, offers all that and more, and will be one of the first in the area to let families choose to webcast funerals to family and friends.
A grand opening, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony, is planned for March 23.
But the new site will not replace the longtime location at 307 Oliver St., where Wattengel has done business since 1925.
Funeral director Gregory M. Wood and co-director Joseph V. Mantione said that on Oliver Street, the large room is 720 square feet and the smaller room is 400 square feet, but that on Meadow Drive, they have two rooms, each 1,200 square feet. Each room on Meadow Drive is more than twice as large as the entire Oliver Street funeral home.
“I said make both rooms the same so nobody gets the small room,” Wood said of the Meadow Drive location.
He said space has become a necessity for modern funerals.
“The original location (on Main Street) was built in 1925, and things have changed so much. It really isn’t geared for what people want today,” Wood said, adding that people want viewings in “short periods of times with massive amounts of people.”
“Years ago, most people had three-day wakes, and on the fourth day, they had a funeral,” Wood said. “Today they might have three hours of calling hours and a funeral right after.”
“In the past, the whole family would come in one car. Today everybody has their own car. We have double the parking here,” Mantione said.
Wood said Wattengel already had been facing parking problems on Oliver Street, which is an older city street. In contrast, the new Meadow Drive location is in a former medical building, with a large parking lot, and is in the new business corridor in the city.
He said the funeral home also will benefit from the planned extension of Meadow Drive, which will open this year, linking the business district to Erie Avenue.
Technology is a big part of the update.
There are television screens in each room where families can show memorial DVDs and three web cameras so people who are out of town can link to funerals via a password.
“We don’t have it on our website yet, at least until it catches on, but right now, up to 10 people can log in and see the funeral,” Wood said, adding that they also download music chosen by families via iTunes and connect to a sound system. Guests also can sign the guest book electronically.
“I want to be as paperless as I can,” Wood said.
He said that in the past year, the funeral home gutted the building on Meadow Drive and put about $700,000 into the makeover, including professional design work by business interior designer Robert J. Seivert of Buffalo.
“There’s not one step or barrier in the entire building,” Wood said. “Plus we have a covered carport where older folks or handicapped people can be dropped at the door.”
In addition, the new facility has small alcoves, where people can sit privately, and a children’s lounge with puzzles, games and toys, where parents can take their young children to play when they get restless.
There also is an office for families to meet with directors and plan funerals, something that was lacking at the Oliver Street site.
Despite some of the drawbacks on Oliver Street, Wood said, there is no intention of closing that location, since some people still want the traditional arrangements.
“You take a phone call and people say, ‘I want Oliver Street,’ ” he said.
Mantione agreed, noting that people still ask to be at Oliver Street.
“The only thing I miss is the creaking. I’m not used to the noises here,” Wood said of the Meadow Drive location.
The grand opening, which will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. March 23, will offer information on planning a funeral and will include representatives from local florists, cemeteries, casket suppliers, monument makers and caterers.
More information is available at www.wattengel.com.