12 July 2011

Best Urban Park

It has to be the most beautiful urban park in the San Francisco bay area; Mountain View Cemetery, situated in Oakland California.

My days of cruising cemeteries in the US for the sheer macabre value of it all ended back in high school. I have visited ones overseas for their historical significance, but never saw much reason to drop by their more modern counterparts in the US. But when I had a third relative interred at the park, I took a more careful look.

How could I have missed such a glorious setting with its 226 acres of winding roads, beautifully arranged tree lined streets and sparkling fountains? It is a landscaped wonder designed by Fredrick Law Olsen, (he of Central Park fame), and dates back to 1863.

“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.” (mountainview cemetery.org)

One honestly feels as if they were in some European grand garden, transported back to a time when it was only man and nature. Situated on rolling hills, with what feels like miles and miles of small roads branching off of the main, fountain lined artery, it is a perfect spot for communing with nature.

On any given day you will find joggers, ladies pushing strollers, people walking their dogs, artists sketching or painting, and even children from a local day care having a picnic.

Many famous Californians are buried there. Charles Crocker’s massive tomb sits on Millionaires row, which, but the way, is where I would like to build a small cottage. Walking by his final resting spot you’d think you were on a lovely, narrow city street, surrounded by greenery, where cars have been banned. In front of you lies a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay. Looking either to the left or right, you see nothing but green rolling hills, trees, and your peacefully resting neighbors.

Every time I go I find some place new to explore; some other bit of historical interest. There is the Civil War Veterans area, ringed by cannon balls of the era. There are beautiful chapels, amazingly elaborate crypts from a bygone era, and an overall peacefulness that belies the fact that you are actually in Oakland, CA.

It is easy to explore either with a map provided by Sunset View or just by turning up a road that looks interesting. (you can drive to most places, or park your car and walk.) Guided tours are offered twice a month.

For me it has become a place to get away from the commotion of the city; a place to clear my head, drink in nature, and maybe even commune with some souls from the past.