Our History is Your History
Most likely the men who signed the partnership agreement in 1898, which launched Cunningham & O’Connor, could never have foreseen the changes of the ensuing decades. We are proud to be standing in their shadow, and living up to their high standards of excellence in service.
Humble Beginnings: a Friendship Forges a Partnership
The parent company of O’Connor Laguna Hills Mortuary began as a simple friendship between Thomas J. Cunningham & Patrick J. O'Connor, a recent immigrant from County Clare, Ireland. Their shared desire to serve the needs of the ever-growing community was the foundation of the business partnership, launched September 12, 1898. This first funeral home in the O’Connor legacy of service, known then as Cunningham & O’Connor, was located at Fifth and Main Streets in downtown Los Angeles.
“The City that Grew”
It's interesting to note that 1898 separates the old Los Angeles from the new. Harry Carr, a reporter, editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times during this period, "As nearly as anything else,” Harry Carr wrote, “this earlier period was punctuated by the Spanish-American War. When it began we were still a hick town. When it ended, we began to grow into a city."
With a steadily increasing population, the new firm prospered. In 1906, a new facility was built on Grand Avenue near Olympic Boulevard, in Los Angeles, which was the first building in the United States to be designed and built specifically as a mortuary. It was truly a state-of-the art facility, too.
Replacing the barn used by the horses to pull the hearse was a new garage for modern automobiles. In the basement, instead of a coal shoot and bin, electrical transformers provided power to heat and light the building. In the office, new writing machines known as "typewriters" replaced pen and ink. The stationary proudly displayed a photo of the building followed by the caption, "Importers of Fine Burial Cases Complete with Irish Linen Interiors."
More Changes Come on the Wings of Progress
Thirty-five years later, Joseph A. O'Connor, Sr. had succeeded his father as head of the firm and construction was underway on a new and larger mortuary on West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. Opening in May, 1942, this mortuary was recognized as one of the finest and most modern funeral homes in America.
Progress throughout the years included opening another Cunningham & O'Connor Mortuary in Hollywood on Melrose Avenue near La Cienega, in December of 1950.
This served the west side of Los Angeles and was the site of services for many of Hollywood's greatest stars, including Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby and Spencer Tracy.
Into the San Gabriel Valley
In April of 1960, Joseph A. O'Connor, Jr., grandson of the founder, returned from Navy duty. He then joined the family business, and in 1962 became a managing partner along with Richard Cunningham. June of 1965 saw the expansion of service to the San Gabriel Valley with the opening of the Cunningham & O'Connor Alhambra Mortuary on Garfield Avenue.
The O'Connor family moved to Laguna Niguel in 1975 and construction began on the O'Connor Laguna Hills Mortuary on Alicia Parkway near Paseo de Valencia. Independent from the partnership in Los Angeles, and under the exclusive ownership of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph O'Connor Jr., the new 10,000 square foot mission-style building opened its doors to the needs of Orange County families in January, 1976.
Situated by itself in the midst of wide open spaces, the new building became known as the "little house on the prairie." Cattle and sheep grazed on the surrounding hills, predating today's homes and shopping centers. Ending at Paseo De Valencia, was a two lane road where the O'Connor children played soccer and rode their skateboards in the street.
The new facility featured two comfortable, spacious chapels; one with pews for the traditional church atmosphere and the Drawing Room Chapel was furnished as a living room for smaller, more intimate services. Tasteful appointments were found in the private offices and selection room. Upstairs was an apartment facility for staff members in order to provide efficient 24-hour service to the community.
Continuing a Legacy of Care
Ever responsive to the needs of the community, the O’Connor family chose to make a significant change in this location. For those families which prefer cremation, the building was remodeled in 1990 to accommodate a Crematory. O'Connor Laguna Hills Crematory is a privately-owned, and is not associated with any "Memorial Society." It is reserved only for those families we serve, each on an individual basis.
In the spring of 1996, a second expansion program was completed with the construction of a 4300 square foot building located at the rear of the mortuary. Our advanced planning department and executive offices are located here. The existing Mortuary has undergone an entire refurbishing of the public areas including a new selection room for expanded funeral merchandise.
Proud to be the oldest family owned and operated mortuary in California, owners Neil O'Connor, Charles Ricciardi, Joseph Fitzgerald and Jeff Turner continue daily to live up to the intentions of the founders, Joseph & Jane O'Connor. As leaders of O’Connor Mortuary, they are fully prepared to move into their second century of service to the growing community.