When you walk into the Colma Historical Association’s building, you’re met with Colma’s proud badge: “It’s great to be alive in Colma.”
Depending on your perspective, it can be great to be interred there as well. There are 16 cemeteries and, according to city facts, more than 1.5 million “souls” versus 1,600 residents.
Bay Area natives know that most of San Francisco’s cemeteries were evicted from the city in the early 20th century. They were precious real estate in a growing city, and supervisors cited the need to remove the many graves for health reasons. Given the impossibility of locating or moving them all, it’s not surprising that excavations turn up historical sites — such as the Gold-Rush-era graves unearthed during the Legion of Honor’s renovation.
The logical extension for San Francisco’s cemeteries became Colma — south of the city and accessible by horse carriage and train. For those in the know, it’s a place that lays as much claim to early agriculture and flower growing, as it does to memorial space. It’s an album title (Buckethead) and a musical. It’s home to the tombs of the rich and famous, as well as to a large pet cemetery. Books, articles and videos at the Historical Association illustrate this history to any interested browsers.
Whether walking from the BART station, or driving through town, the experience really is other-worldly. To emerge from the urban crunch into a green expanse of historic cemeteries just feels odd. But that’s Colma.
For anyone interested in the history of San Francisco and the burial sites of notable figures, Mountain View in Oakland is one of the more dramatic places you can go to pay your respects. The grounds sweep up a hill — with views to San Francisco Bay and Oakland. The Crockers and Ghirardellis and Folgers erected some gigantic monuments you’ll find at this location.
See where some of the more famous grave sites in the Bay are located. Also included is information on two historical cemeteries within the bounds of San Francisco.
The Colma Historical Association is located at 1500 Hillside Boulevard in Colma. There’s a small research library, a shop, and a knowledgeable curator on site. You can also take cemetery tours Tuesdays through Sundays. Groups are limited to six people. Phone for more information: (650) 757-1676.
Pictured: Crocker Memorial at Mountain View
Photo © Ingrid Taylar