California’s first licensed female architect and a Frank Lloyd Wright Protégé helped design this Moorish-Gothic columbarium. Inside one can easily get lost within the labyrinth of thousands of tiny niches surrounded by fountains, trees, natural light and some of Oakland’s most notable dead.
The land where Oakland’s lovely Chapel of the Chimes now stands was originally the site of a trolley car station delivering people to the gates of Mountain View Cemetery. The California Crematorium Association purchased the old station in 1902 and turned it into a chapel for funeral services. The original chapel of the columbarium still has train schedules on the wall.
When architect Julia Morgan took on the redesign and expansion of the modest, turn-of-the-century columbarium on the hill at the end of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, she brought with her a small army of local artisans, architectural treasures from Europe, and her trademark eclectic vision.
The name Chapel of the Chimes is misleading. While there are several lovely chapels inside the building, its name refers to it as a place of peace and tranquility, a building of light and beauty rather than of darkness and death.
The “chimes” are a carillon, installed in the building’s tower, which were repaired in 2008 after many years of disuse.
Julia Morgan was California’s first licensed female architect, educated at University of California at Berkeley and L’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris before settling in the Bay Area.
In the 1920s, she was hired to design the magnificent Moorish Gothic addition, which includes gardens, alcoves, cloisters, fountains, and chapels.
She sent her artist and assistant Doris Day to Europe in search of antiquities to embellish her vision, and brought in local experts in concrete construction, mosaic work and stained glass to bring it to life.
A calming silence envelops visitors after entering the space. In spite of the fact that 190,000+ urns (and even some caskets) are housed within, you’ll rarely run into another (living) soul while exploring the interior gardens, cloister walks, alcoves, fountains and chapels inside.
At Chapel of the Chimes, the niches are property sold in perpetuity to one member of a family, who can will space to only one subsequent family member. The niches are not family-owned. The standard-sized niche holds the remains of two people.
Gorgeous stained glass windows abound and set the impressive urn rooms alight with brilliant color. In addition to the original building (officially, Chapel of the Chimes), the Frances Willard Columbarium (first addition), the Sanctuary (a chapel featuring detailed metal work), and the Julia Morgan Chapel (featuring gorgeous stained glass windows) all link together via a series of passages and stairwells that make the transition feel seamless.
I guess ‘Garden of Infidelity’ wouldn’t work here.
As you enter the Chapel of the Chimes through its ornate Gothic walkway, you pass a deMedici marble table, purchased by Morgan. Beyond that stands the Bible Cloister, where antique bibles are displayed beneath calligraphed verses.
Thousands of tiny niches filled with urns, many shaped like books, surrounding gardens and quiet patio-like rooms, give the impression of a vast, light-filled library. Chapel of the Chimes boasts the installment and use of the world’s first electric crematorium.
Some of the rooms give the impression of being in a greenhouse, as lush foliage burgeons between the urn columns.
In the past, the gardens had their own flock of caged birds and fish swam in the ponds.
“Architecture is a visual art, and the buildings speak for themselves.” — Julia Morgan
Light pours in through skylights that crank open to admit fresh air.
In 1959, Aaron Green (a student of Frank Lloyd Wright) added the mausoleum behind the columbarium, allowing for full body interment.
Chapel of the Chimes was the first space in the world to be both columbarium and mausoleum.
Your gonna need it if you have limited time or easily get lost.
It is known to be the one of the largest above-ground columbariums in the United States.
The most famous resident of the Chapel of the Chimes is bluesman John Lee Hooker, King of the Boogie. To find him, you take the stairs upward from the Bible Cloister, winding through the Garden of Memory, the Garden of Promise, the Garden of Prayer, the Garden of Supplication, up to the Garden of Revelation, turn left, and take the elevator up to the third floor. Up there, turn left again and pass through the Sanctuary of Dawn and the Court of Commitment into the Court of Affirmation. Once you step beyond the confines of the map, you can’t miss John Lee Hooker’s grave on the outer wall of the newest addition to the Chapel of the Chimes. This route also assures that you will see most of the rooms within the space.
Julia Morgan designed more than 700 buildings during her long career and is buried next door at Mountain View Cemetery. RIP Julia (1872-1957).