Some of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries are getting a face-lift.
After acquiring the properties in 2013, Houston-based Service Corporation International is finishing a $7.2 million capital investment campaign highlighted by an expanded mausoleum and courtyard built at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Gentilly.
At Lake Lawn Funeral Home and Cemetery, the funeral services provider has finished work on a cremation garden called Tranquil Oaks and has developed the cemetery’s last remaining tract of land. At adjoining Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, renovations are complete on the interior of a long-dormant chapel that will be used for cremation services.
“It really is an attractive building to see,” Jake Williams, Service Corporation’s New Orleans market director, said about the renovated chapel, which is surrounded by an elaborate collection of marble tombs and funeral statuary.
The expanded mausoleum and the renovations to the chapel were done to cater to a growing demand for cremation services.
Interest in cremation is typically higher in other parts of the country, Williams said, usually in areas where many elderly residents relocated later in life. But recent numbers suggest that it’s likely to continue rising everywhere during the next decade.
Figures from the National Funeral Home Directors Association show that cremation was the method of disposition for about 45 percent of people who were buried in 2013, up from 32 percent in 2005. That number is expected to climb to 56 percent in 2020 and to 71 percent by 2030, according to the trade group.
Prior to starting the recent work, Williams said Service Corporation was “somewhat behind the curve here in providing a well-landscaped, thoughtfully designed area in the cemetery” for cremated remains.
The largest chunk of the money being spent went to Mount Olivet, where the $4 million mausoleum will add space for 4,600 crypts. That work, the last piece of a multiple-phase expansion, is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
“We were really occupying the first five phases of the mausoleum that had been built there,” Williams said. “It was a matter of time before we needed (more space) to provide continuing opportunity for the community and ourselves and that historically significant cemetery.”
Additional renovation and upkeep projects are expected to be announced in coming months, he said.
Service Corporation acquired the properties as part of its $1.13 billion purchase of Jefferson-based Stewart Enterprises in 2013.
At the time, the deal merged the nation’s two largest funeral home and cemetery operators.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.