Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611
Telephone: (510) 658-2588
Number of interments: Approximately 170,000
Size: 226 acres
Open: Daily from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (Fall/Winter hours)
Across the bay from San Francisco, the city of Oakland, California grew quickly after the Gold Rush. Its pioneer cemetery (right downtown on Broadway) was not large enough for the burgeoning metropolis, so the wealthier citizens of the day formed a committee to purchase land two miles away from downtown on a site that climbed the Oakland Hills and afforded views of the bay and San Francisco in the distance.
As envisioned by Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of New York City’s Central Park), Mountain View Cemetery originally had no lawns or fountains, since he believed those weren’t sensible in California’s dry climate. Anthony Chabot, one of the cemetery’s original trustees and benefactor of the Chabot Science Center, made his fortune engineering a water delivery system for San Francisco. He insisted on green grass and fountains for his cemetery. Today Mountain View is an oasis of green at the end of Oakland’s tony Piedmont Avenue.
Since the cemetery’s history spans from the rural cemetery movement through the modern memorial park, its art and architecture has much to offer. Its family tombs range from Egyptian Revival through Romanesque to Gothic. Its 1929 art deco public mausoleum is a thing of beauty. Grave statuary includes everything from lambs to little girls to angels of exquisite loveliness. One can truly feast her eyes here.
One of Mountain View Cemetery’s most remarkable monuments remembers Henry Daniel Cogswell, a dentist who made his money speculating on land after the Gold Rush. Cogswell was such a staunch believer in temperance that he donated drinking fountains to San Francisco and Oakland. In 1870, when Cogswell showed the cemetery fathers the design for his monument, they were so impressed that they gave him the grave plot for free. In return, he paid $1000 for perpetual care. Most of the way up the hill at the back of the cemetery, Cogswell’s monument is a column that rises 70 feet, topped with a crystal star that has turned amethyst in the strong California sun. At the base of the column stand the figures of Faith, Hope, Charity, and Temperance. Once upon a time, the monument had a drinking fountain which offered refreshment to those who climbed the hill to see it, but the fountain hasn’t worked in many years now. $1000 in 19th century dollars couldn’t go far enough.
Above Cogswell’s column is the family tomb of Domenico Ghirardelli. The chocolatier, who also made a fortune in the Gold Rush, had a falling out with the Catholic Church. Under cover of night, he dug his family up in St. Mary’s Cemetery next door and had them reburied in a tomb adorned with upside torches.
The Grand Army of the Republic plot, surrounded by cannonballs set in cement, contains the remains of 300 people. Its 12-pound howitzers technically still belong to the government, although there’s little likelihood Uncle Sam will ask for them back. The highest-ranking officer in the GAR plot is General Jeremiah C. Sullivan, who was relieved of his command for inertia right before the battle of Vicksburg.
Several well-known artists are buried in Mountain View. Julia Morgan was the architect of William Randolph Hearst’s castle at San Simeon, but she is buried under a modest granite headstone. Even more modest is the plaque to Bernard Maybeck, designer of San Francisco’s lovely Palace of Fine Arts. Ina Coolbrith, first California Poet Laureate, was buried in a grave that went unmarked until 1986, when a literary group honored her. Novelist Frank Norris, whose work has not aged quite so well, has a lovely tall stone.
Docents lead a full schedule of free tours that delve into the architecture, design, symbolism, and history of California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Upcoming events include:
October 8, 10 a.m.: Exploring Mountain View Cemetery, free docent tour led by Ron Bachman and Peg Stone
October 22, 10 a.m.: Immigrants Who Helped Shape California, a free docent tour led by Peg Stone and Jane Leroe
Also not to be missed it the 6th Annual Pumpkin Festival on October 29. Mountain View Cemetery invites you to celebrate Halloween in their fun-filled pumpkin patch meadow. You’ll find free pumpkins, activities, and treats for the kids.
Mountain View Cemetery’s homepage
Lives of the Dead blog about Mountain View Cemetery
Other links on Cemetery Travel:
My ghost story
My review of the Mountain View Cemetery book