Prohibition-Era Funeral Home on Madison Street Hits the Market for $12.5M

Posted on: November 29th, 2017 at 5:00 am by

A former Lower East Side funeral home with colorful gangster roots just hit the market as a multimillion-dollar “investment opportunity.”

Robert “Roxie” Vanella was a gangster-cum-undertaker who ran in the same circles as Johnnie Torrio and Al Capone. Later in life, the outlaw (and convicted murderer) went straight, and founded his namesake funeral home. Now, for the first time in nearly a century, the Madison Street HQ of that business is on the market for $12.5 million.

Touted as an “investment opportunity,” the four-building assemblage boasts a total of 21 residential units and 8,000 square-feet of commercial space that will be delivered vacant and can be subdivided. The real estate listing, via Cushman & Wakefield, leans hard on the nearby development happening in Two Bridges, name-checking the Extell monstrosity and the four towers proposed up the waterfront.

Vanella’s Funeral Chapel held down 29 Madison Street ever since Roxie started the business in 1918. Decades later – in 1965 – the mortuary expanded with a Long Island location in Oceanside.

Yet, the family business reportedly came undone last spring due to infighting and legal disputes within the ranks of latter-day ownership. According to the LI Herald, Vincent J. Vanella III, the funeral director who managed the affairs for about 35 years, filed a complaint in Nassau County Supreme Court, claiming that “his sister, Linda Vanella, sought to gain influence over their ‘post 90-year-old’ mother, Lita Vanella, a shareholder in the company, in order to gain control of the corporation’s assets, which are worth millions of dollars.” The action followed a takeover by Lita and his aunt Carmen Vanella after he reportedly failed to make “two monthly payments to his fellow shareholders.”

The Lower East Side and Oceanside locations both shuttered shortly thereafter. The drama presumably led to the listing of 27-35 Madison Street a couple weeks ago.

Founder Roxie Vanella apparently hung around with notorious gangster Johnny Torrio from a young age. Some even thought that they were cousins. The two came of age on James Street, near the Five Points neighborhood, and formed the James Street Gang.

Vanella eventually moved out west for a brief stint in Montana, where he was later arrested and charged with the shooting murder of his roommate and robbery partner Raffaele Orasio. He was convicted in 1907 of second-degree murder and sentenced to fifty years in the Montana State Prison at Deer Lodge. However, socialite prison reformer Ethel Eppstein waged a successful public campaign for his release or retrial, claiming that Vanella had been convicted on circumstantial evidence. The state granted a retrial, and he became a free man in 1914.

The New York funeral chapel followed four years later.

Bonus: below is a photo of Roxie Vanella on his wedding day, circa 1920 or 1921. One of his great-grandchildren posted the image to Shorpy, further corroborating the close relationship with Johnny Torrio (his best man, on the bride’s left).

Photo: Shorpy

Recent Stories

Early ’00s LES Rock History ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ will be Adapted into Docu-series

You may have seen this… New York’s beloved gritty indie musc scene circa 2000s is getting a second life, through a four-hour docu-series. That’s right, the resurgence is a visual retelling based on Lizzy Goodman’s 600-page oral history called Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock & Roll in NYC 2001-2011. The documentary will […]

Anti-Gun Mural Painted on Hester Street

Shots fired. Muralist Otto Schade is throwing shade at gun control with this powerful new piece on Hester Street, just east of the Bowery. It was painted last week. The liberty eagle’s wingspan runs the length of the brick wall, and is composed solely of weaponry. Machine guns and knives. And the bird is clutching […]

‘Tang’s Noodle’ Joins the Leon Hotel on Canal Street

Chinatown has another noodle shop to its name. Coming soon to the four-year-old Leon Hotel is Tang’s Noodle. If the signage is to be believed, this is the first stateside restaurant for the import. Build-out of the small ten-table establishment had been underway since summertime. And it’s not to be confused with the new hotpot […]

Construction Resumes at East Broadway Modular Development Site After Collapsed Sidewalk

The modular housing construction on East Broadway reactivated in a big way last week after its second sidelining since summertime. Pile driver and backhoe are stationed onsite. The project parcel at 201 East Broadway has been relatively silent for much of the last six months. Twice in that time, progress was stymied thanks to safety […]

City Council Passes Bill for Increased ‘Urban Renewal’ Transparency

Earlier this week, City Council unanimously voted to pass legislation that would require the City to provide public access to urban renewal plans, which have been changing the real estate landscape of New York City for decades. Intro 1533-A, sponsored by Councilwoman Margaret Chin, would require the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to […]