Brentwood funeral home marks 75th year with open house event
Six generations of Slater family members have provided funeral services, with the focus always being as a part of the community.
“People gather at times of weddings and times of funerals,” said John F. Slater, 59, owner of the John F. Slater Funeral Home in Brentwood. “It feels good to be a part of the community. It feels good to be able to provide these services.”
The John F. Slater Funeral Home will hold an open house to celebrate the business's 75th anniversary at its 4201 Brownsville Road location from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Highlights of the event will include light refreshments, live music and historic video footage from July 4 celebrations along Brownsville Road from the 1940s.
“Seventy-five years – It's hard to believe,” Slater said. “It should be fun.”
Although the celebration is for the last 75, the Slater name has been associated with funeral services in Pittsburgh since the Gilded Age.
William Slater, John F. Slater's great-great-grandfather, opened a dry goods store in 1870 on Mt. Washington. William Slater's business developed into funeral services after neighbors requested his team of horses and flat-bed trailer — which were used to move goods — transport loved ones' bodies from the home to the burial site, John F. Slater said.
“The funeral is a part of life,” John F. Slater said.
The business developed further in 1902 when William Slater's son, John H. Slater, opened a funeral home at 228 Brownsville Road in Pittsburgh, John F. Slater said.
Funeral home services during this time transformed from an at-home ritual to an independent ceremony.
“People would trust anything a funeral director did as long as it was in their own house,” John F. Slater said. “That's probably how funeral directors got to know the community so well.”
Before the 1920s, viewings took place in the parlor of a family's home and lasted between three and four days, John F. Slater said. Funeral homes became more appealing after the 1920s because it allowed families the opportunity to leave the site of the viewing, and well-meaning but imposing friends, each night to get rest.
In 1937, John H. Slater's sons, Herbert and John H. Slater Jr., purchased the two and a half acre 4201 Brownsville Road property, John F. Slater said.
The 4201 Brownsville Road location originally was a tavern, which burned down in the late 1800s, John F. Slater said. Afterward, a residence was constructed and remained that way until the Slater brothers purchased the property.
The two Brownsville Road funeral homes merged in 1956, under Herbert and John H. Jr.'s control. By that time, Herbert Slater's son, J. Fred Slater, had joined the family business.
Upgrades and additions to the building came in that same year, again in 1963 and this past year, John F. Slater said.
John F. Slater, J. Fred Slater's son, started working at the funeral home in 1969, as a sophomore in college.
In 1984, J. Fred Slater sold the funeral home to John F. Slater and his other son, Stephen Slater.
Stephen Slater opened the Stephen D. Slater Funeral Home in Jefferson Hills in 1997, while brother Timothy Slater operates the Timothy K. Slater Funeral Services in Pittsburgh.
John F. Slater's son, Andrew Slater, joined the family business in 2008.
When asked about the six-generation family history of funeral directors, John F. Slater said he thinks more about the services his business provides than about the duration that his family has provided them.
“It's just something that we've always done,” John F. Slater said. “The family thing is cool.”
John F. Slater Funeral Home employs 20 full- and part-time people. The funeral home can serve up to six viewings at a time, but is most comfortable with four.
“Things have changed but they haven't changed,” John F. Slater said.
Funeral viewings decreased during the last 75 years from three or four days to about a day and a half, John F. Slater said. But the funeral home also provides bereavement services for families after the casket closes.
“That first year, I think people are just reacting,” John F. Slater said. “It's nice to have the choices of bereavement groups if they think it's necessary.”
Andrew Slater, 26, said he is excited to be the newest link in the family business, but credits the hard work to those family members before him.
“It's certainly a tribute to my dad and my grandpa and my great grandfather,” Andrew Slater said. “I think it's an accomplishment.”
Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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