Mt View Cemetery: The Graves, The Trees and the Birds

April 8, 2013

History, Outdoors, Streets


Docent Jane Leroe on a March tour

My favorite oasis near my house is the Mountain View Cemetery, where for the last 25 years I have restored my sense of self and contemplated mortality and eternity. I especially found comfort among its graves, enormous trees and quiet in the spring of my mother’s death. I go in all seasons for the landscape is always changing with budding blossoms and tulips in the spring and golden leaves and chrysanthemums in the fall. Winter is the best season for bird watching and the 3 ponds that make up the side toward Moraga Avenue is where I once spotted a wood duck and 2 weeks later a hooded merganser, two species I’ve never seen in other East Bay locations.

As the website notes,  “Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Mountain View is the resting place of famous figures and ordinary people, the principal players in California’s and San Francisco Bay’s dramatic settlement.”  Frederick Law Olmsted is the architect of New York City’s Central Park, Capitol Grounds in Washington DC, Stanford University and Yosemite Park. I have enjoyed his spacious masterpiece in Buffalo called Forest Lawn Cemetery which I visited by bike as it’s now 269 acres.

Routes to Walk or Bike

Walking into the Mt View cemetery always manages to delight me, as much for its ornamental cherries, native CA oaks, ginkos, and magnolias as well as its iconic graves, especially the “melancholy angels” sprinkled throughout.  From the gate it’s most scenic to follow the main road up, walking under the massive wisteria arbor and then go straight up the stately avenue passing the four fountains. If you have time, you can veer to the right and skirt the 3 ponds where it’s fairly common to see a great blue heron or kingfisher and if you’re lucky, maybe some red striped turtles sunning themselves. I’ve also had the good fortune to once see more than 30 cedar waxwings as well as great horned owls flying out at dusk as it used to be possible to sneak in through a hole in the back (though no longer).

Wisteria in bloom on main entrance

Wisteria in bloom on main entrance

Next it’s a gradual hike to the top of the 226 acres and along the way look for the graves of architect Julia Morgan and civil rights leader Fred Korematsu. More modern Asian graves are found near the top of the cemetery and there is an interesting plot called the Golden Lotus Mountain that marries modernity and Asian influences with the older more European sensibilities. I think some the best panoramic views of San Francisco and certainly Lake Merritt can be seen from the pinnacle. In this section, you might see graves where loved ones are burning incense for their dearly departed. On the way back down, it’s fun to descend the many paths that flow like tributaries to the flat area of the entrance with its gorgeous gate. Sunsets from the top can be spectacular and don’t worry about getting locked in as the gates are never locked from the inside. As I’ve learned from experience, you can always walk or drive a car out, even after closing time.

Sphinx with breasts are of a Greek or Roman heritage (not Egyptian)

Sphinx with breasts are of a Greek or Roman heritage (not Egyptian)

For more info, there are twice monthly tours. I went on the women’s tour in March with the exceptionally funny and knowledgable docent Jane Leroe. She will even organize a private tour on the topic of your choice if you organize a group of 6-8 folks. Call the office to book it. In March, many of the most interesting women whose graves we visited never married and never had children, such as Dr. Chloe Annette Buckel. After moving to California after serving a nurse in the Civil War (even though she was an MD), she co-founded a hospital for women and children in San Francisco, and was one of the few female doctors in the state.  Gene Anderson from OurOakland has been writing about the famous and not so famous Oakland denizens. Oakland Planning Commissioner Michael Colbruno has the most extensive blog with photos and videos called Lives of the Dead since 2009.

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About Karen Hester

Karen Hester is a community activist and events coordinator who lives in North Oakland in Temescal Creek Cohousing. Her event productions website is She lives and breathes the fight to stop more billboards in Oakland and started

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