Saturday, October 31, 2009

Olmsted's Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland CA

Four years after the California Cemetery Act was passed in 1859, the original trustees of Mountain View Cemetery met and organized a non-profit association. The trustees sought out Frederic Law Olmsted who was known for his work in New York’s Central Park and who was in California at the time. (Olmsted came to California to manage the 44,000 acre Mariposa Gold Mine.)

The cemetery was consecrated May 25, 1865 and quickly became the premier place to be buried, attracting the elite of California - including such notables as: Charles Crocker one of the Big 4 who built the transcontinental railroad and later founded Crocker Bank; Henry Durant, founder of what became the University of California; Ina Coolbrith, California’s first poet laureate; James Folger who created Folgers Coffee Company; Domingo Ghirardelli, the chocolate king; three generations of the Pardee family that included two Mayors of Oakland and one California Governor; famed architects Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan, the first woman to graduate from the Ecole de Beaux Arts; Col. John Coffee “Jack” Hays, the most famous Texas Ranger; landscape painter, Thomas Hill; author Frank Norris; sculptor, Douglas Tilden; industrialist, Henry J. Kaiser whose shipyards played a key role in the Allied forces victory in WWII and whose medical foundation provides quality health care to this day; Warren and Steven Bechtel, who founded and built the largest engineering firm in the world; Elizabeth Short, aka “The Black Dahlia”; and numerous other state governors and legislators.

Mountain View cemetery occupies 226 acres of land in the Oakland hills. Olmsted planned curving paths and roads that climb up the slopes at either side of a formal allee. The main allee starts at the level entry and extends one half mile up along a gentle slope. As described in a narrative Olmsted wrote, he envisioned a place for all persons to be buried, "a place of our common grief, our common hopes and our common faith; a place wherein we may see and feel our sympathy one with another ... where all elements of society would be provided for ... so that the community of the dead would be an object lesson for the community of the living".

Olmsted intended native grasses, lots of shrubs and five species of trees - Italian Cypress, Cedar of Lebanon, Stone Pine, Monterey Cypress, and Evergreen Oak (Quercus agrifolia). Today 80+ species of trees are found throughout the cemetery. The upper terraces offer spectacular views of the bay and the City of San Francisco. It is here that the elite of California chose as their final resting place, which became known as Millionaire's Row.

See the sidebar on this blog for information about free, docent-led walking tours.


  1. Chris,
    Thanks for sharing some of the history of Mountain View Cemetery. The California Genealogical Society had a recent visitor from New Zealand who came in search of her California roots. I drove her to Mountain View so she could photograph the gravestone of her ancestors. It is a beautiful place.

  2. Chris,
    this is a wonderful blog, congratulations. I very much like your casual delivery of interesting information about our local environment. Thank you.