People like author Frank Norris, artist Thomas Hill, architects Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck, captains of industry such as powerful railroad builder and banker Charles Crocker…all made their contributions to the shaping of a nation’s frontier.
As Americans moved westward, man had achieved dominion over the land, overcoming hardships and nature to continue the march to California. But as man triumphed over his environment, he also came to question his place in nature. Mountain View Cemetery is an outgrowth of this contemplation.
Mountain View Cemetery is distinguished from other cemeteries by its architect’s vision of man and nature and their relationship to each other. Mountain View Cemetery serves as an example of the American search for a civilized life in harmony with the environment.
The historic Cemetery master plan was designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted — the architect of New York City’s Central Park, Capitol Grounds in Washington D.C., Stanford University, and Yosemite Park (he minimized the intrusion of man on Yosemite’s natural wonders) — Mountain View Cemetery was intended to express a harmony between man and the natural setting.
Park-like cemeteries, such as Mountain View Cemetery, were brought into being by various cultural forces of the 19th century.
Cultural and religious shifts in sensibility, as well as 19th-century English and American romantics helped encourage the idea that a park-like cemetery represented the peace of nature, to which man’s soul returns.
As open spaces disappeared in the larger cities, the new garden-style burial ground became perceived as one replacement for the forests and fields that had been devoured by urbanization and industrialization.
In America the park cemetery embodied the “wilder,” more natural elements of a view common to early 19th Century philosophy and culture: “God made the country, and man made the town.”
Olmsted took a unique approach to Mountain View Cemetery. His park cemetery integrated the Parisian grand monuments and broad avenues.
Olmsted also drew on a popular philosophy of the times, American Transcendentalism, to help shape his vision of the cemetery. American Transcendentalism embodied Asian philosophy, which believed that all of nature flows from the same wellspring, that is, trees and flowers, water and air — and man — are part of nature.
In Olmsted’s vision, nature and human destiny are intertwined. They converge. Man is not in nature. He is nature, and our notion that we can depart from nature’s process even for a moment is gently put to rest.
There are over 177,000 souls buried here.
Buried in the exclusive and long-sold-out hillside tract known as Millionaire’s Row are some of the folks who built, made, acquired and stole to make the Bay Area the place it is today. The names carved into the granite vaults, family mausoleums and marble slabs — Crocker, Ghirardelli, Merritt, Kaiser, Maybeck, Bechtel — were the forces to be reckoned with before the shuffling-off-the-mortal-coil thing happened.
Mountain View, unlike other cemeteries, is open to the public for recreational use. Visitors may hike, picnic, sightsee, cycle, walk dogs and even roller-skate and skateboard, if the skating is done “respectfully.”
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.
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.
Its family tombs range from Egyptian Revival through Romanesque to Gothic. Among the curious elements of the cemetery are its three pyramid mausoleums more then any other cemetery in the U.S. The pyramid mausoleum craze started in the early 1800’s after Napoleon invaded Egypt.
Its 1929 art deco public mausoleum is a thing of beauty.
It was was designed by William P. Day of the San Francisco architectural firm of Weeks & Day.
The main section was built in 1929 with new additions added in 1934, 1946, 1949, 1954 and 1964. The Mountain View Cemetery trustees of the depression era wanted the most up-to-date architecture and spared no expense. Much of the glass came from Germany and the marble and most of the craftsmen came from Italy.
Stained glass window inside the main mausoleum.
Among those buried here are “chocolate king” Domingo Ghirardelii, Big Four railroad tycoon Charles Crocker, Oakland mayor Samuel Crocket, Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan, the ill-fated lovers Alexander and Josephine Dunsmuir of Dunsmuir House, and Anthony Chabot, founder of the Chabot Observatory, as well as Elizabeth Short, the victim of the unsolved Hollywood murder known as the “Black Dahlia”.
Symbols abound in cemeteries and make them interesting; Mountain View is no exception. A neatly trimmed sheaf of ripened wheat, an inverted torch that still burns and an obelisk draped with a tasseled pall: each has its own meaning.
Some symbols make personal statements about the deceased; others chosen from the stonecutter’s sketchbook leave more general messages. A dove flies across a marker with a sprig of olive bearing the message of life after death. A winged hourglass reminds us that time flies. Laurel leaves, often in the shape of a wreath, announce victory over death. A broken column speaks of a life cut short. Ivy and lambs; lilies and urns all have their messages. All we have to do is discover them.
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” These words from the New Testament – Hebrews 6:18 – appear throughout Mountain View in the form of a woman leaning on an anchor. She points skyward in this detail on the Goodall mausoleum on Millionaire’s Row: the star above her forehead announces she is not of this world.
She sure is beautiful.