Sunday, April 2, 2017

Cypress Lawn Cemetery, Colma, California: 2 March 2017

Of all the attractions available to people visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, none is more unusual than San Francisco’s neighbor to its south, the City of ColmaThe city is located at the base of the western slope of San Bruno Mountain and is sited nine miles south of San Francisco. Colma is a necropolis, a city of the dead. 

Within Colmas two square mile boundary are 16 cemeteries. Colma's dead far outnumber its living. According to the City of Colma, the town’s current population is between 1,400 and 1,500 people; while the number of interred or cremated bodies in Colma is more than 1.5 million.

Colma was established as a part of San Francisco’s urgent attempt to deal with what had been its most enduring social problem since the earliest days of the gold rush, human burial. 

San Francisco is a compact city sited on forty-seven square miles at the tip of a peninsula. The land was more valuable than gold.

By the 1880s, San Francisco officials were enviously eyeing the land occupied by its many cemeteries. The four largest cemeteries in San Francisco were clustered on 60 square blocks in the Western Addition area at the base of Lone MountainCity planners declared that the cemeteries had been put there in error and the land should be used for housing.

San Francisco’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese made the first move. On 2 June 1887, after purchasing a 179-acre land parcel in Colma, the Archbishop of San Francisco went to Colma to dedicate a new Roman Catholic burial ground, Holy Cross Cemetery. The establishment of Holy Cross Cemetery altered Colma’s landscape forever. 

In 1889, Congregation Sherith Israel, a Jewish synagogue, purchased a 20-acre plot for the Hills of Eternity Cemetery. Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, a non-sectarian burial ground, opened in 1892. Others followed rapidly. Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery was established in 1896, The Italian Cemetery in 1899, the Japanese Cemetery in 1901, the Serbian Cemetery in 1901, the Greenlawn Cemetery in 1903, Woodlawn Memorial Park in 1904, the Greek Cemetery in 1935 and most recent, the Hoy Sun Ning Yung Cemetery in 1988. 



This gallery of photographs contains images of some of the eighty-seven private mausoleums that now occupy the original forty-seven acre Cypress Lawn Cemetery site in Colma. Cypress Lawn Cemetery was one of the last grand garden cemeteries built in the West. Garden cemeteries were burial grounds that used landscaping in a park-like setting, rather than merely places for graves. 

The forty-seven-acre site became available for burials beginning in 1892. Many of San Francisco’s wealthy entrepreneurs from the late 1800s and early 1900s purchased burial sites at Cypress Lawn Cemetery for themselves and their families.

The grounds of Cypress Lawn Cemetery are approached through this granite portal located on the east side of El Camino Real. The gateway bears the date 1892Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

This is the burial site of Charles De Young (1845-1880). He was the founding publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1880 de Young shot mayoral candidate Issac Kalloch, who had defamed de Young’s mother, declaring that she ran a house of prostitution. Kalloch’s son subsequently stalked de Young and six months later murdered him. A bronze statue marks de Young’s interment site, where he is buried with his mother, Amelia de Young (1809-1881). Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

This mausoleum is the burial location of Rudolph Spreckels (1872-1958). He was the youngest son of sugar baron Claus Spreckels; he built his fortune in sugar, banking, and finance. At the time of his death, he lived in a rented three-room San Mateo apartment. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

This mausoleum contains the bodies of George Hearst (1820-1891), his wife, Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919), and his son William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951). George Hearst acquired his riches through his ownership of numerous Nevada Comstock silver mines and real estate investments. Phoebe Apperson Hearst was a philanthropist. She donated millions of dollars to the development of the University of California Berkeley. William Randolph Hearst was a billionaire and an only child. At the height of his power, he owned eighteen newspapers, nine magazines, several radio stations and movie studios. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

This is the mausoleum of William G. Irwin (1843-1914). English-born, Irwin purchased the entire Hawaiian island of Lanai and developed one of the largest sugar plantations in the world. He moved to San Francisco in 1899. His mansion on Washington Street in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights housed the Irwin Memorial Blood Bank. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

This mausoleum contains the remains of three generations of Floods. James Clair Flood (1826-1889), was the richest of the “silver kings” who made a fortune in Nevada’s Comstock Lode. He also established the Bank of Nevada which was the forerunner to Wells Fargo Bank. His house was the only private residence on Nob Hill to survive the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The house is now the location of the Pacific Union Club. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

This is the burial site for the Bancroft Family. Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832-1918) was a Historian. He authored thirty-nine volumes on the history of the West. He amassed sixty-thousand volumes of books which he sold to the University of California, Berkeley. His books are the basis for the Bancroft Library at the University. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

This is the mausoleum for Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1842-1929). She bequeathed one-third of her estate for the beautification of San Francisco, a portion of which was used to built Coit Tower. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

 This large mausoleum belongs to German-born sugar baron Claus Spreckels (1828-1908). Ten members of his family occupy this mausoleum. His son Adolph Bernard Spreckels (1857-1924) and his son's wife, Alma de Bretteville (1881-1968) are among the occupants. His son gifted Golden Gate Park with both Spreckels Lake and Spreckels Temple of Music. His wife, Alma, convinced her father-in-law Claus to finance the California Palace of the Legion of Honor as the Spreckels Family rejoinder to the M.H. de Young Museum. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

This mausoleum belongs to Charles Frederick Crocker (1854-1897). He was the oldest son of the transcontinental railroad builder Charles Crocker and was also vice president of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The mausoleum noted for its bronze doors, additionally contains the remains of his wife, his eldest daughter, and his mother-in-law. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

This is the sarcophagus of Louis Philippe Drexler (1836-1899). Sitting on the sarcophagus is the Archangel Michael. He is missing his wings and his great sword. Both fell and broke as a result of the 1906 earthquake. Born in Virginia, Louis Drexler moved to Nevada where he made a fortune from mining and real estate investments. Drexler moved to California in 1880, where he subsequently accumulated quite a bit more wealth from his investments in business and mining. He married Elise Alice Kelley Drexler (1866-1951), a woman half his age, late in life. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

These are the twin sarcophagi for William H. Crocker (1861-1937) and his wife, Ethel Crocker. William H. Crocker was the youngest son of the transcontinental railroad builder. He started the Crocker Bank, and was a major rebuilder of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. He also donated land to the Episcopal Church where Grace Cathedral now stands. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.


This Columbarium was built in 1893. It was one of the first built on the West Coast; there is space in this columbarium for one-thousand urns. Click on the image to see the full-size photograph.

Are you interested in learning more about Colma and its cemeteries? If so, I recommend that you consider acquiring these books:


I purchased the books to support my research for this blog posting, and I found them both very helpful.


The distance traveled was approximately 5.7 miles (9.1 kilometers). Mile markers are displayed on the GPS generated track. Click on the image to see the full-size map.

“A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.” -Dorothea Lange


The first volume of the San Francisco Bay Area Photo Blog contains galleries of photographs that were posted on the Internet between 2002 and 2011. Click Here to view those photo galleries.

Panasonic GX7 camera body mounted with an Olympus 17mm lens was used to take these photographs.

Question or comment? I may be reached at neil@mishalov.com