California Underground: Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery

Think of it as LinkedIn, Six Feet Under: the Olmsted-designed Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. Let’s see who we can dig up, so to speak…

Where’s a Body to Go?

Cramped space in the San Francisco cemeteries and the lure of a prestigious landscape architect (Frederick Law Olmsted, he of Central Park fame, brought to California on a Yosemite Grant commission) led the Gilded Age’s movers and shakers to buy plots across the Bay in the hills of Oakland. And it turned out just as planned.  The elites, socialites, artists and ne’er-do-wells of fin-de-siècle San Francisco (now technically two siècles back) clamored for sites with the best views of the City they had built. Not that they themselves would enjoy it, however.

Stardust Memories

From luminaries such as Charles Crocker, one of the Big Four railroad kings, to once-besotted artists like Frank Norris (who famously condemned the railroad stranglehold in his novel The Octopus, and whose gravesite is endowed to this day with an empty gin bottle) there was a place for everyone, above ground or below. And, in keeping with the Victorian fascination with mortality, couples and picnickers of the 1890s would flock to the parklike cemetery grounds to enjoy a sunny Saturday, much as you’ll still see today.

Herewith a short tour, with an excursion to Julia Morgan‘s Chapel of the Chimes, a side project when she wasn’t busy building castles in the air for William Randolph Hearst. (She’s buried next door at Mountain View too, along with another California architect you may have heard of, Bernard Maybeck).  Here you’ll find Oakland greats like John Lee Hooker, Al Davis, and more. Alas, none of these celebrities are accepting new connections.

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