The Intriguing Story Behind the 1937 Merryman Funeral Home

by Donna Reiner
Business Development Community History Donna Reiner July 14, 2020

The building’s short façade and cavernous interior attracted local restaurateur Andrew P. Mirtich, who purchased the building in 2016 and is redeveloping the historic structure into a bar and restaurant. Reminiscent of historic buildings in his hometown of Chicago, Mirtich also owns Chambers and Seamus McCaffrey’s Irish Pub. (Photo: Fara Illich)

Located between Matt’s Big Breakfast and the Coronado Hotel on First Street, there’s a historic stucco building you may have walked right past without noticing.

Once tucked between two houses in the residential area now known as the Evans-Churchill neighborhood, the Merryman Funeral Home remains an oddity. Why? Well, why was it built there? No one seems to know. But we do know a great deal about the people behind the name.

Phoenix’s Early Undertakers: The Merrymans

The founder, George F. Merryman, and his wife Holland, journeyed west from Indiana in 1891, where he had raised prized breeding stock horses. They settled in Los Angeles, and eventually became directors of Dexter-Sampson undertakers. This was the first indication that Merryman had gone into the funeral business.

The Merrymans lived in L.A. until 1899, when they moved to Phoenix. Merryman briefly joined W.A. Davis’ undertaking business, but bought him out when Davis decided to head to Nome City, Alaska to be a miner circa 1903. (Davis wanted to dig up gold rather than bury people.) When Merryman took over, he brought in a new partner, S.A. Holley, and changed the name to Merryman & Holley Funeral Parlor. Originally located at 24 W. Jefferson Street, the firm then moved to 114 W. Adams Street.

Photo of the Merryman Funeral Home at 124 N. Second Avenue from an ad in "Arizona The New State Magazine," August 1912. (Donna Reiner)
Aftter the funeral home ceased operation around 1959, the building later became a recovery center and the Paulina Miller Gallery, which closed in 2010. (Photo: Wikipedia)
An adaptive reuse project will convert the Merryman Funeral Home into a bar and restaurant, complete with outdoor seating area. (Photo: Fara Illich)
A view of the Merryman Funeral Home interior, adaptive reuse in progress. (Photo: Fara Illich)
The funeral home's brick structure was built using a concrete foundation and stucco sheathing. (Photo: Fara Illich)
The building's short façade and cavernous interior attracted restaurateur Andrew P. Mirtich, who owns Chambers and Seamus McCaffrey’s. (Photo: Fara Illich)
The Merryman headstone in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo: Kim Schilling)
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Merryman Funeral Home Moved Five Times: A Final Resting Place in Evans Churchill

S.A. Holley disappeared from the scene around 1910, and Merryman’s next partner was W. J. Hayt. Merryman & Hayt was located at 124 N. Second Avenue. That partnership was short-lived as Merryman died in August 1913, although Hayt remained for another 18 months or so. Hayt left to become a City of Phoenix sanitary inspector.

Merryman’s wife, Holland, who had been a schoolteacher in Indiana as well as Phoenix, took over the funeral parlor upon her husband’s death. After Hayt’s departure, Holland Merryman maintained the business at the Second Avenue site until circa 1925 with the assistance of Vernon W. Evans, who eventually became Mrs. Merryman’s business partner. Evans had obtained his mortician’s license through the Cincinnati College of Embalming in 1920, the same institution George Merryman attended. According to Evans’ obituary, he started off answering phones and driving horse-drawn hearses for the firm.

Mrs. Merryman then moved the business to a much “farther north” site at 2400 N. Central Avenue where Merryman Funeral Home remained until she and Evans purchased a lot in what was known as the Churchill Addition, and had a new building constructed in 1937. While at the North Central Avenue site, the funeral home was in charge of the burial of Governor George W. P. Hunt and his wife in their mausoleum (pyramid) in Papago Park.

The final “resting” place of Merryman Funeral Home was at 817 N. First Street. Over time, the business became known as Merryman-Evans Funeral Home. Holland Merryman died in 1949, but Evans continued the business retaining the Merryman name. Evans retired in 1957, and the business ceased operation around 1959.

Rising From the Dead: A New Life For Merryman Funeral Home

The building was later a recovery center and its best-known occupant in recent times was the Paulina Miller Gallery. Today, this Spanish Mission Revival structure is undergoing upgrades for a new life, rising from the “dead” like Lazarus. Andrew P. Mirtich, who owns Chambers and Seamus McCaffrey’s, both located in Downtown Phoenix, purchased the property in 2016. Mirtich’s four-year long project will convert the Merryman Funeral Home into a bar and restaurant complete with outdoor seating area. It is slated to open next year.

George F. Merryman’s obituary called him a “man of quiet reserve and retiring habits.” He might be quite surprised that the building constructed in 1937 would live on, allowing his name to be prominently recorded in the annals of Phoenix history.