top of page

Mountain View Cemetery

This Wednesday was the 6th anniversary of our Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group walking together, and we had a special walk and tour of the Mountain View Cemetery to celebrate. It was a lovely spring morning and there was a strong turnout of 50 walkers at our usual start time in front of the cemetery’s main mausoleum to enjoy it all.

The tour was to be conducted by author, newspaper man, and historian Dennis Evanosky. He has literally written the book on the cemetery, actually two books on it, as well as books about Alameda and Oakland’s Laurel District. His knowledge of the Mountain View Cemetery is encyclopedic.

Before Dennis got started, walker and Piedmont Post cartoonist Phil W surprised me with the attached drawing that recognized my six years with the group. We also took the attached group photo. Then it was time for Dennis to share his expansive knowledge of this Victorian-era cemetery jewel and its residents. First, Dennis pointed out his “three girlfriends” right above them in mausoleum’s façade. They are statues of ancient Greek women that represent life, and how well and long it is lived. Dennis noted one is holding a scissors.

Dennis said we were in front of the “main mausoleum” that was built in 1928, but there is another, earlier “main mausoleum” across the way. The cemetery administrators didn’t bother to rename either, so there are two “main mausoleums” at Mountain View.

Dennis led us down the street and up a hill to the mausoleum of David Douty Colton. He was an associate of the “Big Four” railroad men who bankrolled the construction of the transcontinental railroad, and became very wealthy. Dennis said “Big Five” might be a more accurate name. Colton’s mausoleum is a classical revival building with Corinthian columns and an Egyptian sphinx in front. A statue depiction of a cloth was also noted. It represents a pall that covers a casket. Depending on the deceased’s wealth, it could be buried with the person, or just rented. And so we have “pallbearers.”

Dennis also noted the many obelisks around the cemetery. They mark graves from the late 19th Century when the Washington Monument was built. At that time the cemetery was also being created, and Egyptian archeological discoveries were being made by the western world. Everything Egyptian was the rage. Down below is a large pyramid built for William Gwin, California’s first senator, and his family. Up the hill was a tall statue of an elk on a monument. This section of the cemetery was for Elks Club members. We have often seen the elk on our walks down Moraga Avenue.

The story of renowned landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, who designed the cemetery in 1863, was also told. He planned New York's Central Park, as well as much of the UC Berkeley and Stanford University campuses. Olmsted was managing gold mines in Bear Valley, California, when he was asked to design the cemetery. There were 197 acres to work with, and 23 more were bought later, so the cemetery is a total of 220 acres. He was promised $2,500 for his work with $1,000 up front. However, it seems the cemetery didn’t pay him the full amount. Stanford and Cal may have stiffed him too because they didn’t like his designs.

Dennis said the number of people buried in the cemetery is really unknown because in the past people were buried, sometimes in “unendowed areas” or “stranger plots,” and not recorded. Dennis has been part of efforts to identify these graves and also open spaces. He estimated there are about 180,000 graves in the cemetery with room for about that many more.

We made our way up the cemetery’s south boundary and saw Moraga Avenue homes with backyards facing the cemetery. This was the area of Walter Blair’s late 19th and early 20th Century “Blair Park” attraction. Workers were cutting down huge eucalyptus trees. Dennis said the trees were a fall danger and needed to be removed. Further on was a small “no name” lake that provides water for the cemetery. Turkeys, deer, fish, cats, and other wildlife also make use of it.

Next stop was a small, worn obelisk with a plaque that read, “Jane Waer 1822 – 1865 1st Burial in Mountain View Cemetery.” And Dennis’ last stop was the family plot of George Pardee, mayor of Oakland from 1893 to 1895 and California governor from 1903 to 1907. Some walkers realized they had visited the Pardee Home museum in Oakland where he lived.

Dennis was conscious of our desired walk end time, so it was time to conclude the tour. It was also an appropriate time for us to thank Dennis Evanosky for a most enjoyable, information-packed tour of a beautiful place on a beautiful morning with a wonderful storyteller.


bottom of page