Merry Christmas! Here’s something fun to do tomorrow.

Merry Christmas! I hope you all are having a wonderful day.

I feel bad about kind of abandoning the blog for the last couple of weeks. I just get so frazzled around the holidays, it’s hard to find time to do anything. I mean, I love the Christmas season and everything, but it does get tiring. I’m sure at least some of you know the feeling. I made some half-hearted attempts to write about the new ballpark EIR, the Climate Action Plan, the MacArthur BART Transit Village, and I think something else that I can’t even remember now, but I just couldn’t find the time to do any of it right. Alas. Maybe next week.

So instead, I want to tell you today about a fun thing to do tomorrow if you’re spending the holidays in Oakland.

Mountain View Cemetery

So. A couple of months ago, I went on one of the free docent tours at Mountain View Cemetery. I have to admit, until like a week before I went on the tour, I didn’t even know that they offered such a thing.

Mountain View Cemetery

I’d been to Mountain View Cemetery lots of times before, of course. It’s a beautiful place with stunning views, and I love to just go for long walks around there. Sometimes I’ll take a little picnic and a book and just hang out there for hours. Occasionally, I’ll wander around looking at the names on the gravestones and seeing if I recognize any of them.

Or if I see one that catches my eye, I might go look up on my phone to see if there’s an entry about that person on Lives of the Dead, Michael Colbruno’s Mountain View Cemetery Bio Tour. A couple of times, I’ve tried to locate Ina Coolbrith’s grave, but I have never been successful in that endeavor. I’ll find it someday, I’m sure. I know it’s in there somewhere.

Anyway, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from a guided tour of the cemetery. It turned out to be super cool! The tour lasted about two hours, and we just walked around the cemetery and stopped at the graves of people who were either some kind of noteworthy historical figure or just had an interesting story about them. It was a really good mix of people they talked about, and also a really excellent combination of informative and entertaining. That can be a tough balance to strike sometimes, but our docents got it perfect, and also did a really good job making everyone they talked about sound very real. Like, so you could imagine them as an actual person instead of just a name with a bunch of facts and dates attached.

Mountain View Cemetery

They also talked some about the design and history of the cemetery itself, which was something I had honestly never really thought much about before at all, but I ended up finding really fascinating.

Anyway, the whole thing was just great, and I left eager to return for another tour. They do these free tours twice a month. On the second Saturday of each month, they do a general tour, which is what I went on. People tell me that it’s worth going on the general tour more than once, though, because there’s always different docents leading them and so the tour is always a little different.

Mountain View Cemetery

On the fourth Saturday of the month, they do a tour on a specific subject. They have tours focused on important women in the cemetery or the architecture there and stuff like that. In February, for Black History Month, they have a tour about African American community leaders buried in the cemetery. There’s one about doctors in the cemetery. I was looking at the calendar after I finished the tour I went on, and saw that earlier in the fall, there was one about all the Mayors of Oakland that are buried there. I totally want to go on that one next year. And like a dozen different people have raved to me about the Memorial Day tour that local author Dennis Evanosky does of the civil war veteran plots, so if I’m in town then, I’m definitely going to go to that.

I’m sad to say that I haven’t actually made it back to another tour since the one I went on, because I have been out of town every time they’ve had one. But one of these days I am sure it will work out for me.

Anyway. The reason I bring this all up today is because they also do a special tour the day after Christmas: Mountain View Cemetery from the Beginning (Special Sunday: Founders Day Tour). The one tour I went on made me very eager to learn more about the history of the cemetery, so I think it sounds super cool, and if I were in town, I would totally go. But I’m in the mountains with my family, surrounded by snow. Which I have to say, is a pretty awesome way to spend the holidays, even if it means you have to miss the cool Mountain View Cemetery history tour.

Mountain View Cemetery

But if you’re around, you should totally go. Have family in town and can’t think of what to do with them? Take them to this. It’s free, it’s interesting, it’s something different, it’s beautiful, the views are spectacular, you can go stroll down Piedmont Avenue afterwards, which is also really fun, and so on. According to, there’s a 40% chance that it will rain for you guys tomorrow morning, in which case I guess the cemetery tour would probably not be such a great idea.

But if the weather’s good, go for it! The tour starts at 10 AM tomorrow, Sunday, December 26th at Mountain View Cemetery, located at 5000 Piedmont Avenue.

Okay, that’s all for today. Have a great Christmas, everyone!

44 thoughts on “Merry Christmas! Here’s something fun to do tomorrow.

  1. len raphael

    The cemetery is a treasure and serves double duty as the only public open space in North Oakland.

    For 90 years it has held a well attended Memorial Day ceremony in remembrance of armed services members who died in combat despite the changes in the public attitude toward military service.

    Was designed by the same landscape architect who did Prospect Park, Central Park, and some portions of UCB and Stanford.

    Have never understood how the burial perpetual care plans nd plot fees are sufficient to maintain the place. Guess they don’t pay City wages. Believe it is union.

    But somehow it’s kept clean and safe. Very little dog poop and no orphaned dog poop bags.

  2. annalee allen

    Credit goes to Barbara Smith, the person who began giving these tours several years back and has volunteered to train new folks who wanted to learn to lead these tours. She has always been generous with her time and knowledge.
    btw the name of the person who laid out the cemetery to begin with in the 1860′s (also NYC’s Central Park, etc) was Frederick Law Olmsted, considered to be the “father” of American Landscape Architecture.

  3. Navigator

    The cemetery is an Oakland treasure. I remember reading somewhere that it was designed by the same person who designed Central Park in NYC.

  4. livegreen

    & it was one of Olmsted’s earlier works, after Central Park, when he was managing a mine venture in gold country. Before modern parks cemeteries were where the masses went to picnic.

    Omsted is also the originator of “parkways”, Eastern Parkway (alongside his masterpiece Prospect Park) in Brooklyn being the first.

  5. Dave C.

    Olmsted was responsible for Ocean Parkway. Incidentally, they say Ocean Parkway had the first bike path in the U.S. (although I don’t know if Olmsted had anything to do with the installation of the bike path). I don’t think he did Greenwood Cemetery a mile or so away, although the style is similar.

  6. Andrew Alden

    Mountain View Cemetery is also an excellent place to see the foothills landscape and rocks without development. (The only better place in Oakland is probably Knowland Park, “Oakland’s crown jewel.”) It’s worth a geology tour. Olmsted was all about landscape and its sublimity.

    The cemetery was run down for a long time, but in recent years they’ve put a lot of money into the grounds. The local goths still love it, though.

  7. Naomi Schiff

    Andrew, maybe sometime you would consider a geology walking tour of Mountain View? OHA runs a historic tour of it yearly in our summer walking tours, but I don’t recall a geology-oriented one.

  8. Andrew Alden

    I toy with the idea. This year I want to make a push and get my Oakland geology book written. Walking tours would fit that campaign, after the writing is done. First things first.

  9. Livegreen

    Naomi (or anybody else), Do u know the history of why the Oakland 16th St Station didn’t get FEMA or State funds to b re built?

    & How a bunch of historical Oakland engiNed ended up at the Sacramento Train Museum?

    Thanks…And, yes, happy new year!

  10. ralph

    Wasn’t 16th Street service effectively replaced with new stations in Emeryville and JLS? If FEMA provided funds for the development of these stations doesn’t that satisfy reconstruction/replacement obligations?

  11. Naomi Schiff

    I know a little about each. Train Station is not actually owned by the city at this point, but by Bridge Housing. They are supposedly putting a new roof on it (I hope this is truly happening). Some assessment and planning studies have been completed. The RAILS nonprofit is supposed to be working on re-use plans. It is within the Army Base Redevelopment District, and the long going-nowhere phase (plus the collapse of any near-term residential construction) of the army base redevel. is stalling things. The idea was that the train station reuse would in part be financed by tax increment funds, which could help in leveraging other money–but needless to say those are not building up very fast. There are many people asking about it, though, so I hope that will spur some action! I hope that Ron Dellums will help advocate for the station, even as he leaves office. I am trying to assist, and can post here as I hear more. As to the train cars, perhaps you are referring to the train elements that were at Harrison RR Park on 7th Street. At some point they were being neglected and attracting vandalism, plus Henry Chang wanted to build a pagoda. So the cars were farmed out to a good home. Harrison RR Park is one of the original parks of Oakland, by the way. Annalee Allen has written articles about it. I personally am not a big fan of the pagoda, which is ornamental, not functional. The low building near it houses senior activities and has a garden. The pagoda idea was some sort of homage to Chinatown, but even at the time it was built, some local residents thought it was not a great decision. But then-councilmember Chang had the oomph to make it happen. Think of it as a precursor to the mount rushmore-esque thingumbobbie now planned for uptown. We do seem to fall into accepting subpar public art when promoted by people with influence.

  12. Naomi Schiff

    16th Street Station is indisputedly a historic building. It is unlikely to be reactivated as a main train station, since as Ralph point out two new ones were built, and the rebuilt 880 freeway interrupts the lines. However, it is architecturally important and culturally significant (in many ways!) and definitely worth re-using. It stands on what was once the shore, before all the filling-in of the bay. There are some federal funds available, on occasion, for old railroad buildings, so LiveGreen has a point. (Also, it’s eligible for 20% federal tax credit as a nationally significant historic building.) Center of activity for the western branch of the Railway Porters’ Union, main point of arrival for waves of immigrants coming in to the bay area, part of the history of the Japanese internment, a very early example of a multimodal node, where people could transfer between the Key System Red Cars and the longhaul passenger lines. It was a major employer and hub of activity in West Oakland from 1912 until its closure after the 1989 quake.

  13. annalee allen

    Harrison Square Park was one of the original town squares of Oakland, so designated in the 1860′s. Naomi is correct, two decades ago a community center for seniors, designed by Henry Chang, was erected on the site (and the historic rail cars removed). Stopping in is worth a look, because there is a “Hall of Pioneers” display with exhibits dedicated to various persons of note from the Chinatown community. More info is on file at the Cultural Heritage Survey office (city of Oakland), for those interested in learning more.

  14. Livegreen

    IMHO replacing the 16th St station was a major blunder, but that’s water UTB at this pt.

    However there r other models that should b considered (or elements should) for successful reuse:

    -Working remodeled stations: Union Station in DC or Grand Central;
    -Nonworking Stations for tourism & hospitality: Kansas City;
    -Other RR Museums: Sacramento & Baltimore.

    All of these r destinations & major attractions. If Oakland could find it’s own unique combination the Station would b a real attraction here.

  15. ralph

    While talking about 16th St in any otehr context of what Bridge has planned for it now seems futile, I see some flaws in your options LG.

    Union Station and Grand Central are used for local and commuter trains and shopping. Seems like 16th St would be just a train station not a destination.

    Sacramento and Baltimore seem to have regional locks on the museuam usage.

    I think the proposed BRIDGE development is a good use of the space.

  16. ralph

    I thought the BRIDGE Development was going to make use of the structure and thus make it eligible for federal funds and tax credits.

    Admittedly, I am not fully up to date on all that is happening at 16th St. Station just what I see in SFBT.

  17. Livegreen

    I realize it’s not going to b used for active train use, that’s why I said “elements of”. Shopping and restaurants r integrated into both Grand Central and Union stations, making them destinations for non-commuters. The SF Ferry Building is another such example.

    Throw in some elements of either the Sacramento or Baltimore Train Museums (perhaps coupled with the Port for Maritime) & we’ve got something unique.

  18. ralph

    Sorry, I should have phrased that thought differently. Did not mean to imply that 16th St would be an active station. I meant to say that both Union Station and GCS benefit from being active stations and being in relatively dense communities. They don’t need to hunt for people. People come to them because they must.

    Given that you are asking people to drive, for it to be financially viable it needs to be unique. A half hearted attempted to mimic a museum makes no sense. In addition, just by looking at the neighborhood, it looks like it will require a huge investment to improve middle class housing stock.

  19. livegreen

    Ralph, Again, people also go to those stations for the food and the shopping. But I agree with you about density and the added #’s from commuters. That’s why I propose the addition of a train/maritime museum. Plenty of people go to the two locations I mentioned (Sacramento-Baltimore Roundhouse). So there’s a combination to drive traffic.

    Good trains = kids. Restaurants = Adults.

    I agree the surrounding community would b a challenge. It would greatly help IF the development around it can survive/be revived.

  20. livegreen

    From the Bridge website link to Central Station:

    Preliminary plans call for uses such as flexible space for events and performances; a food-preparation and service business; youth education functions; and exhibits that celebrate Oakland’s history. The initial planning process and studies were done by BUILD and its team including award-winning architect ELS, development consultant Equity Community Builders, the City of Oakland, public outreach consultant Envirocom Communications Strategies, and a community advisory committee. These plans are being evaluated and enhanced by RAILS and its team of consultants led by California Capital Group.

    I assume California Capital Group is Phil Tagami?

    At any rate, they seem to already envision something similar to what I’ve mentioned, minus some of the more attractive attractions.
    I’ve not yet read the re-use process link…

  21. Naomi Schiff

    Yes. There is still plenty to do to get it funded, rehabbed, and establish a self-sustaining use program. There has been considerable discussion about how to take advantage of its rail history, including whether a historic train car or two could be used onsite as part of whatever happens. CCG is Phil T.’s group, contracted to assess feasibility and structural situation. The building needs a good deal of work, including addressing seismic safety. Museums are difficult to fund, so the latest thinking was to incorporate some exhibition space but not to try a single-use museum. More like the gallery in the bottom of the EBALDC building, which hosts changing exhibits but doesn’t occupy a separate dedicated space.

  22. annalee allen

    re: Asian Resource Building (headquarters for EBALDC) the gallery space Naomi refers to is also the ground floor lobby for the building. On Monday’s Jean Quan History Walk we will passing through, on the way to the 11 a.m. Inauguration at the Fox Theater. All are welcome to join in on the walk, which starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Pacific Renaissance Plaza. Be sure to pick up a copy of the commemorative history map. Qudos to Quan for demonstrating interest in promoting Oakland’s history and heritage.

  23. ralph

    I think you are ignoring key points. First, half a museum is not a draw for many people.

    You can not deny that the foot traffic at Union Station is greatly enhanced by the MARC, Amtrak and Red Line trains and the nearby bus station and post office. In addition, US is within spitting distance of the capitol. The setting makes it a great place to have nice galas.

    As to the shopping, check out the type of stores that are at US and GCS. Do you think that stores of that quality are chomping at the bit to get into West Oakland as is? The income that lives by and flows through US and GCS is significantly higher than that in West Oakland.

    To simply say that we can turn the 16th St Station into a Union Station equivalent ignores key facts. For your vision to work, there needs to be wholesale changes to the surrounding community.

    In other news, if you do the MEJQ walk and want to attend the ceremony drop out early to improve your chances of getting a seat.

  24. Livegreen

    I was thinking multiple-use too, with a rail/transport museum being only part of it. Food and galleries would b another.

    The building looks pretty big, so it could house a variety of stores, restaurants and galleries, much like Union Station or the SF Ferry Terminal. The museum portion would b smaller than Sacramento or Baltimore, but interactive so kids, adults & volunteers could walk through the trains. (There r a LOT of rail enthusiasts who would volunteer & visit).

    A small steam train ride, if there’s any medium length of track left, besides being an attraction for those already interested, would also serve as free marketing to those driving by on 880.

    Re. the train engines I saw in Sacramento that say something like “on loan from the Port of Oakland” r still the same status or not (that is, if their status hasn’t been changed to a permanent gift) but it would b easy to check out.

  25. Livegreen

    Ralph, I’ve acknowledged this from the beginning. Elements of means elements of, & I had this in mind when I used those words. I don’t deny the challenges, I just don’t think there as insurmountable as u, + I acknowledge the many other people who come to use these stations (often from far away) even though they’re not using the public transport. I’ve used each multiple times with friends and family even though I never lived near any of them.

    Clearly 16th St Station would have to b different and have it’s own unique blend of the different examples I’ve mentioned.

    Since Bridge is already planning a multiple-use facility ANYWAY, suggested add ons to make it better and more attractive only improve what’s already being worked on.

  26. Naomi Schiff

    Ralph, there are quite a few people buying land in West Oakland, and some developers who are planning to re-use old industrial buildings as rentals, so eventually there will be a more lively neighborhood. Also, Raimundi Field’s reawakening has really brought a lot of baseball playing kids down there. LiveGreen, if you would be interested in helping with the project, contact me. I don’t want to take up a bunch of space here, but it sounds like you (and Ralph, maybe you?) might be willing to play some role. More energy, ideas, and people are needed! I am reachable at my workplace, Seventeenth Street Studios, Inc., or you can email me through

  27. ralph

    I like to be the voice reason. MJ adds additional tax revenue but certainly not to the extent people projected. You might be right about train enthusiast but that does not translate into ready workers.

    It is the “elements of” language I find problematic. If you want to succeed you need to be about something – figure out what you are going to focus on and develop it. But trying to be all things to all people is not a business concept that has ever worked.

    Thanks, I am definitely interested in the West Oakland development. I am of the mindset that with fully developed neighborhoods the area bounded by College Ave, Piedmont, Lakeshore, JLS and W.O. is completely walkable – we just need to give people a reason to walk.

  28. Livegreen

    Ralph, I take your point, as well as the challenges. I agree that all things cannot b, but still believe that a realistic amount of “mixed use” in a space where it’s already intended is viable. I didn’t invent the term after all.

    I note that Grand Central happened in stages (as most such projects probably do) so can b fine tuned as results r achieved and corrections made where necessary.

    Take a look at the mixed use re-use of KC’s Union Station which like 16th is no longer a working station. This did not happen overnight but incramentally as visitors were attracted DT (when I visited 10 years ago it was seperated from the rest of DT by a much neglected ares, generally similar to the situation we have).

  29. Livegreen

    I stand corrected: there is an Amtrak stop (wasn’t when I visited) although no local commuter rail.
    Not sure how many passengers Amtrak brings or how long they stay to visit…

  30. Dow Chemical

    Does anybody know what happened in front of the Grand Lake Theater this morning? There was police tape up & a car had really made a mess of the big cement planters (which saved the front of the cigar store) & paper machines. looked like a real mess, but I can’t find anything about it.

  31. JB

    Dow Chemical: Piedmont PD pursued a vehicle which crashed into the cement planters. The driver was taken into custody.

  32. len raphael

    Another interesting bit of backround on our new mayor in today’s Trib: ” she worked for several years as a national organizer for the SEIU”

    Could cut either way.

    My bet is that her big volunteer push is to find volunteer residents to fill in for large numbers of higher paid employees who will see retire now rather than face an increasingly uncertain future re vesting and medical benefits.

    Doesn’t matter that the thousands of skilled part time volunteers won’t materialize.

    People will give her credit for triying hard to find an alternative to amputating city services instead of slashing compensation, eliminating retiree medical benefits etc.

    She has a much better understanding of how to manipulate Oakland voters than Perata ever had.

    -len raphael, temescal

  33. Robert Raburn

    The notion of the 16th St Station drawing sufficient visitors to succeed may not be too farfetched. The big IF is it needs to be developed in conjunction with a Bridge Transportation museum at the Bay Bridge gateway park. The East Span pathway is slated to open in 2013 and the station is only a short distance from the bridge touchdown–albeit with plenty of barriers at present. With the eventual extension of the path across the West Span, West Oakland would become a legitimate attraction for visitors to SF.

  34. Dax

    I’m curious, what is Jean Quan’s educational background?

    I inquired during the election but never could get a answer.

    I do not know if she attended UC Berkeley, how long she attended, what she studied, or if she ever graduated from Berkeley or any other institution.

    All I read in the paper and on her site during the election is about how she helped start the Asian Studies Program at Cal. Calls to her HQ never yielded a answer.

    Seems like a reasonable line of inquiry now that she will be mayor for 4 to 8 years.

    Surely someone here must know.

  35. Andrew Alden

    It’s off topic, but Quan didn’t graduate from Cal although she had a scholarship. I don’t know the story for sure, but I recall reading an anecdote about the university confronting her and her mother over Jean’s activism, and her responding that they could go stick their scholarship. I guess that means she forfeited it.

  36. Dax


    “It’s off topic, but Quan didn’t graduate from Cal although she had a scholarship. ”

    Yes, I guess it is off topic, but I didn’t pay attention to the subject heading of Christmas… Was thinking open forum.

    Still, I’d just like to confirm what you said.
    On the other hand, I guess putting out a “non event” is not something you’d put into a bio.
    I mean you wouldn’t state “she did not graduate”…

    I guess I was still curious because during the campaign I couldn’t get anyone to even say she hadn’t completed her studies.
    However I do think what she studied would have some relevance to her ability to understand certain aspects of city affairs.

    For example, if she had been a accounting major, you would expect more in regard to understanding budgets.