Vanella’s Prohibition-Era Funeral Home Sells for $7.8M

Posted on: February 28th, 2019 at 5:02 am by

It took more than a year, but the shuttered Prohibition-era funeral home at 27-35 Madison Street is now in new hands.

According to public records, Eric Pang of Metro City Acquisition LLC is the buyer of the old Vanella’s Funeral Chapel, having paid Linda Vanella $7.8 million for the four-building assemblage. The deal went into contract last October, and was finalized at the end of January, nearly $5 million less than the original ask.

Included in the deal is a total of 21 residential units and 8,000 square-feet of commercial space.

Vanella’s Funeral Chapel dates back almost a century (1918). Its founder, Robert “Roxie” Vanella, was a gangster-cum-undertaker who lived on James Street, and ran in the same circles as Johnnie Torrio and Al Capone. Decades later – in 1965 – the mortuary expanded with a Long Island location in Oceanside.

Yet, the family business reportedly came undone in 2017 due to infighting and legal disputes within the ranks of latter-day ownership. Both locations closed shortly thereafter.

Founder Roxie Vanella apparently hung around with notorious gangster Johnny Torrio on the Lower East Side 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.

A year later, Roxie Vanella, Torrio, and Jim Colosimo were involved in a vice-related Chicago gunfight that killed police Sergeant Stanley Birns. The James Street gangster escaped jail time despite charges being filed, and he returned home.

The New York funeral chapel followed four years later.

However, it’s worth noting that the more recent chapel ownership had reportedly omitted references to “Roxie” from its official business history, focusing instead on his little brother Vincenzo as its founder.

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