This Sunday, September 16, I will show some of my favorite photographs from 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die at one of my favorite cemeteries in the book, Colma’s Cypress Lawn Memorial Park.
Cypress Lawn was founded in the 1890s as a garden cemetery. To this day, it is full of lovely statuary, an exotic arboretum, carpet flowerbeds, and monuments to the founding fathers of San Francisco. It also has acres of stained glass in its public catacombs. It’s one of the loveliest cemeteries in Northern California.
The time has come to gather all the San Francisco cemetery pieces spread across Cemetery Travel into one place. These posts served as research for the Laurel Hill Cemetery speech I gave at the Swedish American Hall last night. If you’re visiting Cemetery Travel from last night’s Memento Mori event, welcome.
This list of links does not yet tell the complete story of San Francisco’s eviction of its dead. I’m very close to finishing a new book with the working title of The Pioneer Cemeteries of the San Francisco Bay Area, which will go into much more detail — and have more pictures. My search for a publisher will begin shortly. Stay tuned!
A selection of the graveyards of San Francisco:
Image from a stereoview card of Senator David Broderick’s obelisk in Lone Mountain Cemetery, San Francisco, 1866
Olivet Memorial Park
Also called Mount Olivet Cemetery
1601 Hillside Boulevard
Colma, California 94014
Telephone: (650) 755-0322
Size: 65 acres
Number of Interments: 100,000
At the foot of San Bruno Mountain in the cemetery town of Colma lies Olivet Memorial Park, which proclaims itself as a “Cemetery for All Faiths.” It was founded as Mount Olivet Cemetery by Austen Walrath (buried here in 1902) with the backing of the Abbey Land and Improvement Company.
San Francisco architect William H. Crim Jr. designed the Old English Abbey Chapel, as well as the Columbarium and “Incinerary.” Cremation began at Olivet as early as 1911. Since then, the cemetery has cremated more than 45,000 people.
Some of its earliest cremation retorts were designed by Mattrup Jensen, who took over as superintendent from Walrath. Jensen’s crematory retorts were used by cemeteries across the US. He believed that Colma cemeteries should be designed to look like outdoor cathedrals. Jensen eventually became the first mayor of Lawndale, before the town changed its name to Colma.
The striking 18-foot-tall black granite monument to the Sailors Union of the Pacific was sculpted by John Stoll. It bears the legend: “And the sea shall give up its dead — from every latitude here rest our brothers of the Sailors Union of the Pacific.” California governor Earl Warren dedicated the sculpture in 1946 to remember the 6,000 merchant marines who died over the course of World War II. Many others have been buried in the plot since.
Another monument remembers the Showfolks of America. The national organization, made up of circus or carnival people, held conventions in San Francisco after 1945. The area around the clown-faced monument is known as Showmen’s Rest. It was filled with clowns and other performers by the 1990s.
When he was captured near Oroville in 1911, the man called Ishi was believed to be the last survivor of the Yahi tribe. Called “the last survivor of Stone Age California,” he was brought to the University of California in San Francisco, where he lived until his death of tuberculosis in 1916. He never revealed his true name. Alfred Kroeber, the anthropologist who studied him, called him Ishi, which simply means man in Yahi. He was cremated at Olivet and the cemetery’s columbarium held his remains in a “modest dark vase set on a dark green marble base.” He may have created his own burial urn.
After his death, his brain had been removed during an autopsy. The brain was rediscovered by anthropologists in the Smithsonian Institution in 1997. It was reunited with his ashes and transferred to an undisclosed location.
Also buried here is Arthur “Doc” Barker, the youngest member of the Barker gang. He was arrested for the last time in January 1935 for the kidnapping of Minnesota banker Edward G. Bremer. After Barker was transferred to Alcatraz, he died leading an escape attempt in 1939, when he was shot in the head. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Olivet’s unendowed Cosmos Plot.
Another Alcatraz inmate, Joseph “Dutch” Bowers, was arrested for robbing a post office in 1931. He was the first inmate to attempt escape when he climbed a fence in front of the guards and was shot and killed in April 1936. Other inmates believed that Alcatraz had driven him crazy. Bowers is buried in an unmarked grave.
Silent film actress Marguerite de La Motte appeared in over 50 films. She worked with Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro and The Three Musketeers, but made only four talking pictures before she retired from the film business. She died in 1950 at the age of 47 and was cremated here. She has a modest niche in the columbarium.
Singer Danniebelle Hall, who died in 2000, combined gospel with dance music. Her epitaph in the mausoleum proclaims her “The Designer’s Original.”
Colma’s lovely Cypress Lawn Memorial Park is trying something new: a book club! The club idea is so new that they don’t have it listed on the Heritage Foundation’s website yet, but the first two books were chosen at the club’s first meeting earlier this month. I’m honored to say that Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel is one of them.
Even if you’re not close enough to attend, you can still read along with us. The schedule so far:
The book club will meet at 11 a.m. in Cypress Lawn’s Reception Center at 1370 El Camino Real, Colma, California. If you’d like more information, please contact Terry Hamburg.
Future books will range from autobiographies and novels written by people interred at Cypress Lawn and may include more cemetery history or history of the San Francisco Bay Area. When possible, the book club will visit the appropriate grave sites.
I’ve never been a part of a book club, so I’m very much looking forward to this.
Home of Peace (Navai Shalome)
1299 El Camino Real
Colma, California 94014
Telephone: (650) 755-4700 Established: January 1, 1888 Size: 20 “graciously landscaped” acres at the foot of the San Bruno Mountains, according to the cemetery’s website. Number of interments: More than 20,000 (according to A Self-Guided Tour of Colma Cemeteries by Frances Liston, undated) Open: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday through Friday. Closed on Saturdays, major Jewish Holy Days, and secular holidays.
As early as 1848, Jewish settlers in San Francisco set aside land bounded by Vallejo, Broadway, Franklin, and Gough Streets in the current Pacific Heights neighborhood (then on the edge of town) for a graveyard called the Emanuel Hart Cemetery. In the early days of the Gold Rush, if a Jewish miner died in the diggings, it was important that his friends send his body to San Francisco to be buried with other Jews.
Traders and merchants from Bavaria founded Congregation Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco in 1850. Many of the members had come west for the Gold Rush, but found the money was better if they served the burgeoning populace providing hats, boots, and clothing, as well as importing dry goods from relatives on the East Coast.
After the population exploded in the 1850s, the edges of the city of San Francisco encroached on the Jewish pioneers’ graveyard. The bodies of early Jewish settlers were exhumed in 1860 and moved to a new two-acre graveyard, called Home of Peace, near the old Mission. It was bounded by 18th and 19th Streets and Church and Dolores, where Dolores Park is now. Photographs of the era show a beautiful sloping cemetery full of bright white marble monuments. Historian Michael Svanevik said in City of Souls that this Home of Peace became “San Francisco’s most prestigious Hebrew burial ground.”
Whether due to the pressure of an ever-expanding population or to anti-Semitic vandalism (as Svanevik suggested in a lecture given at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in August 2001, the congregation of Temple Emanu-El began to look for a permanent burial ground. In 1888, Temple president Martin Heller arranged to buy 73 acres of land in northern San Mateo County from the Catholic Archbishop Patrick Riordan. The area would later become known as Colma.
As soon as the original deed of purchase was signed in 1887, bodies began to be moved from the Dolores Park cemetery to this new Home of Peace. All of the bodies and headstones were carefully moved. Each corpse was reburied in an individual grave, as opposed to the mass reburials in the Gentile graveyards. In all, an estimated 13,000 pioneers were reburied, although many of them no longer had markers. The original markers that did survive are still visible in the back of Home of Peace, where families were buried together whenever possible. The final body was reinterred in 1910 and the former cemetery land in San Francisco was sold for development. The city turned it into Dolores Park.
Home of Peace in Colma is the largest Jewish cemetery in Northern California, founded by the largest Jewish congregation in Northern California. The cemetery contains some of the most beautiful private family tombs in Colma.
Levi Strauss’s mausoleum
After he made his fortune selling rivet-strengthened blue denim trousers to the Forty-Niners, Levi Strauss built a beautiful white-domed tomb, valued at $48,000, in 1908. It features a bust of Fanny Stern, his mother, which is said to have been commissioned from Auguste Rodin.
San Francisco’s 21st mayor, philanthropist “Silver King” Adolph Sutro — who gave the city the Cliff House, Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights, and eucalyptus-covered Mount Sutro behind the University of California San Francisco campus on Parnassus — built a massive underground vault in Home of Peace for his estranged wife Leah and other members of his family. His ashes, as well as those of his daughter Emma were buried on the grounds of his home at Point Lobos, now called Sutro Heights Park. Judy Edmonson, General Manager of Home of Peace Cemetery, said in a tour in 2008 that Sutro’s ashes had recently been located during repair work on the Heights. The website Found SF reports that the urn full of ashes had been removed from the hillside and now resides with a family member.
The grave of Adolph Sutro’s family
Other important San Franciscans buried in Home of Peace include Isais Wolf Hellman (one of the founders of Wells Fargo Bank), members of the Zellerbach family (of Crown Zellerbach Corporation, the second largest wood pulp and paper business in the world), Aaron Fleishhacker (who came out during the Gold Rush and found his fortune manufacturing boxes), Ignatz Steinhart (a philanthropist for whom the aquarium in Golden Gate Park is named), and Walter Wanger, a Hollywood movie director who started the careers of Rudolph Valentino, Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor. Alice B. Toklas’s parents are buried here, too.
The Home of Peace mausoleum opened in 1936, designed in the Byzantine Revival style by Wayne S. Hertzka (also buried there) and William E. Knowles. The mausoleum’s red-tiled dome, marble interior, and torpedo-globed chandeliers evoke Congregation Emanu-El’s temple at the corner of Lake Street and Arguello Boulevard in San Francisco, which had been inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The mausoleum and its chapel were remodeled by Mae and Benjamin H. Swig in the 1980s.
Home of Peace is “dedicated to serving all families of the Jewish faith.” One didn’t — and doesn’t — need to be a member of the congregation of Temple Emanu-El to be buried there. In fact, the graveyard provides burial sections for Congregation Beth Shalom, Peninsula Temple Sholom of Burlingame, and World War II veterans from the former Soviet Union.
Some of the cemetery’s un-landscaped area is used to grow organic produce for the San Francisco Food Bank. According to the Images of America book Jewish San Francisco, the Peah Garden donated 30,000 pounds of vegetables to the Food Bank in 2005, the largest contribution of fresh produce that year.
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