On Olmsted’s anniversary, Mountain View Cemetery says it will extend public hours

Courtesy of Gail Lombardi

Mountain View Cemetery said on Tuesday that it was reopening the cemetery grounds to the public on Sundays from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. starting April 30. The move represents a loosening of public access restrictions that started during the pandemic when the cemetery shut its gates in March 2020. More than a year later, in May 2021, the cemetery reopened, but on Wednesdays and Saturdays only from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

The news comes on the April 26 anniversary of Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth 200 years ago. Olmsted designed the park in the 1860s. (The New York Times ran a photo essay of his legacy this week — “public parks as a democratic ideal.” The story included images from some of his most celebrated spaces around the country — Central Park in New York City, Belle Isle in Detroit, Niagara Falls State Park — and a nod to Mountain View Cemetery.)

Mountain View Cemetery’s Director of Family Services, Kristie Ly, said this new schedule — Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday from 8 a.m. – 4: 30 p.m. — will stand “for now” as it seeks to balance the needs of plot owners and the public. She said that the needs of (paying) burial plot owners are prioritized, but that the cemetery is not trying to be spiteful by restricting public access. In addition to the three-day a week access, the cemetery is working to bring back the docent tours from pre-pandemic days. Ly said that problems with dog owners in particular — especially unleashed dogs that defecate on the lawns and on burial plots — remain a problem and one of the reasons there is not a desire to return immediately to pre-pandemic openness.

An image from the April 26 New York Times photo essay by Ruth Fremson

Under its “pilot re-opening plan” listed on their website, the cemetery says that:

• Contrary to public perception, MVC is a private non-profit cemetery providing mortuary and cemetery services to the public. Unlike other open spaces in Oakland, it does not receive any public or church funding. Costs to host the public, such as security, events and trash collection, are borne by plot owners.

• While Mountain View Cemetery and the plot owners recognize that the majority of the public were respectful of the graves and surroundings, before the Covid mandated closure to the public, MVC and the families of the those buried at MVC, suffered negative consequences of its generosity — everything from vandalism, to speeding vehicles, loud pipes and music, dogs unleashed running across plots, dog owners failing to pick up their dog’s poop, and litter from picnics.

• In the year since closure, the families of the interred, have enjoyed the quiet, peaceful serenity of the cemetery, and they, the owners of Mountain View Cemetery are not in favor of re-opening to the public. Through this pilot program, MVC hopes to reassure its customers that the serenity of cemetery can co-exist with re-opening to the public.

In anticipation of the bicentennial of Olmsted’s birth, Piedmont historian Gail Lombardi wrote about the history of the cemetery grounds in a May 8, 2021 article for the Exedra.

In December 2020, the San Francisco Chronicle took a deep dive into the cemetery’s history as a notable landmark and its legal wranglings with the city of Oakland. (Read the full Chronicle article HERE.)

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