Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Joseph Le Conte (1823 - 1901) - Founded Sierra Club with John Muir

Joseph Le Conte and his "Yosemite Gravestone" (Photo by Michael Colbruno)

Plot 36, Lot 193

Joseph Le Conte was born and educated in Georgia where he initially studied medicine, but found that his real interest lay in scientific research. He had inherited a large plantation and four dozen slaves and lived the life of the aristocratic planter class, a life changed forever after the Federal forces under Sherman laid waste through Georgia in 1865.

Le Conte and his brother John had been teachers at South Carolina College before the war, but at the end of the conflict, his plantation was gone, most of the South’s institutions were destroyed, northern colleges were not interested in hiring “rebels”, and their best prospects in 1868 seemed to be to join the new University of California. The offer had come from Regent John W. Dwinelle who learned about the Le Contes through a mutual friend at Harvard.

Joseph Le Conte
 The Le Contes traveled over the Rockies as far as Sacramento by train, and by riverboat to San Francisco Bay. Joseph was the second professor to be hired at UC, his brother John was the first. John taught physics, Joseph geology, natural history, and botany. Joseph was widely regarded as the most popular professor on campus.

In the summer of 1870, Joseph Le Conte made his first trip to Yosemite, and it became his passion for the rest of his life. Le Conte’s introduction to the beauty of Yosemite was made by his students who had urged him to join them at the end of his first year of teaching. Off they went on horseback from Oakland across the hot and dusty Central Valley to Yosemite -- an experience he would always treasure.

That summer he met John Muir, and they became firm friends. He returned summer after summer, studying the geology of Yosemite, and writing numerous scholarly papers. Le Conte’s scholarship as a research scientist was widely admired. Among his many publications were the standard textbook, Elements of Geology, and a popular work, Evolution and Its Relation to Religious Thought, in which he reconciled religion and evolution.    In 1874 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and in 1891 he became president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1892 he joined John Muir in founding the Sierra Club and served on its board of directors until 1898. He died on July 6, 1901 in his beloved Yosemite Valley. His friends hoped to bury him there, but his family wanted him brought home to the family plot in Mountain View. The rugged granite rock marking his grave was brought from Yosemite’s Glacier Point. In 1903 his friends and admirers in the Sierra Club built the Le Conte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley, open to the public every summer.

[Text by Ron Bachman]

Henry J. Kaiser (1882 - 1967) - Famous Businessman

Henry J. Kaiser vault at Mountain View Cemetery
Main Mausoleum

Kaiser, a native of upstate New York, left school as a teenager to work in a camera shop for no pay.  He made an agreement with the owner that he would earn a salary once he had doubled the shop’s business, and within a year, Kaiser had tripled profits, driving the owner to exhaustion and convincing him to sell the business to Kaiser -- who was seventeen.

In 1913 Kaiser was working for a gravel and cement dealer in Washington when one of his clients, a Canadian road-building firm, went out of business.  He got a loan to take over the contract and finished the job at a profit.  From that time until 1930 he built California dams, Mississippi levees, and highways, including 200 miles of road and 500 bridges in Cuba, while establishing sand and gravel plants to supply his own materials.

Hoover Dam
Between 1931 and 1945, he helped organize combinations of construction companies to build the Hoover, Bonneville, and Grand Coulee Dams, as well as other large projects.

During World War II he ran seven shipyards that used assembly-line production to build ships in as little as 4 1/2 days, and by the end of the war his yards had produced 1,490 ships for the U.S. Maritime Commission.  In 1941-1942 he built the only integrated steel mill on the West Coast to make steel for his shipyards.

He established Kaiser Gypsum in 1944, and bought up Alcoa aluminum plants to supply his Kaiser-Frazer auto business, but he discontinued auto production in 1953 after an industry slump.  By that time Kaiser Aluminum& Chemical was becoming highly profitable, and from 1954 to 1960 he undertook the construction of the Hawaiian Village resort on Oahu’s Waikiki Beach -- which he sold in 1961 to Hilton for $21,000,000.

Henry J. Kaiser
In 1942 Kaiser established what is now known as the Kaiser-Permanente Health Plan, one of the earliest health maintenance organizations in the country.  The plan built 19 hospitals and now provides preventive and acute care for over 6,600,000 people.

In 1958, Kaiser bought Lake Merritt property from Holy Names College and built his 28-story headquarters building there.  By 1977, Kaiser Industries was dissolved, ending an era.

[Extracted from notes by Docent Chris Pattillo quoting the Oakland Tribune of May 26, 1996, and Beth Bagwell’s Oakland, the Story of a City.  Additional information is from the Encyclopedia Britannica article on Henry J. Kaiser.]

Colonel John Coffee “Jack” Hays (1817 - 1883) - Famous Texas Ranger; S.F.'s First Elected Sheriff

Memorial Marker for Col. Jack Hays at Mountain View Cemetery

Jack Hays was a Tennessee native whose father and grandfather had fought with Andrew Jackson.  The second of seven children, he was orphaned at fifteen and struck out on his own that same year of 1832.

After Hays served some time as a surveyor in Mississippi, he headed for Texas around 1837 and volunteered as a Texas Ranger to fight for independence from Mexico.  Hays played a critical role with the Rangers while still in his 20’s.

Col. Jack Hays
After twelve years with the Texas Rangers he left in June, 1849, to lead an expedition along the Gila River in an attempt to find a practical southern route to California.  He arrived in San Francisco in 1850 at the age of 33 with the intention of heading for the gold fields.  However, when the San Franciscans learned they had a Texas Ranger in their midst, they quickly persuaded him to become their sheriff.  All this was during the Vigilante period of 1850-1851, a chaotic time for a lawman.

In his role as an officer of the court, Hays met Vicente Peralta with whom he and four associates negotiated the acquisition of the Oakland portion of the Rancho San Antonio.

Although Hays was elected to a second term as sheriff of San Francisco he left the job in 1853 to fill the federal post of Surveyor General for California during the presidency of Franklin Pierce.  During his trip to Washington for Pierce’s inauguration Hays was treated as a major celebrity.  One news account stated, “Amid the countless multitude attracted to Washington...during the last few weeks...no man was the object of deeper interest than Col. Jack Hays, the world-renowned Texas Ranger.  It may be safely asserted that no man in America since the great John Smith explored the primeval forests of Virginia....has run a career of such boldness, daring and adventure.  His frontier defense of the Texan Republic constitutes one of the most remarkable pages in the history of the American character.”

Col Jack Hays' Fernwood Estate
His estate in lower Montclair was called “Fernwood” and was described as “one of the most beautiful of the State....located at the base of verdure-clad hills of the Coast Range, in a quiet nook....lordly oaks....a handsome building and exquisite area.  Indescribable views in every direction.” Hays arranged for the grading and construction of a road from Oakland to his property, known at the time as Hays Canyon Road --- now Moraga Avenue.

Another of Hays’ interests was the College of California; in 1855 he was one of the petitioners to the state for the granting of a charter to the College, the institution which would later become the University of California.

He devoted much of the rest of his life to acquiring and developing property in Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, and what was to become Piedmont.  When Jack Hays died at his home on  April 21, 1883, newspapers were filled with accounts of his passing. The funeral procession wound its way out Broadway with crowds lining the streets all the way to Mountain View.  Fernwood was destroyed by fire in 1899, but a stone foundation along Thornhill Drive and Mountain Boulevard remains today as a reminder of a once-great estate.

(Extracted, in part, from notes taken by Docent Chris Patillo in 1996 from Oakland Heritage Alliance News, Spring 1993).

The Strangers' Plot

The Strangers Plot at Mountain View Cemetery (photo by Michael Colbruno)

In the southwestern section of the cemetery between plots 54 and 38 is a sloping green field marked only by two dozen trees.  The earliest cemetery records refer to this plot as either Potter’s Field* or the Poor Ground and it contains some five hundred burial spaces.  In October of 1870 the cemetery trustees renamed this area the “Strangers' Plot” and labeled it as such on the cemetery map.

The primary purpose of the Strangers' Plot was the burial of the indigent, the unknown, criminals and suicides consigned to Mt. View by the County government.  The files tell a sad story.  Many of the graves are of men, women and children labeled “unknown”.  Unknown infants number in the hundreds.  A few burials appear to be removals from the old cemeteries in downtown Oakland.  One entry specifies “Twelve unknown bodies from 14th and Harrison”.  There are a number of persons who died of drowning.  The files record deaths due to suicide or gunshot wounds.  Several “hanged” criminals are buried on this hillside, including the first and last persons hanged in Alameda County.

A gravestone in the Strangers Plot (Photo by Michael Colbruno)

In the early years another category of burial took place in the Strangers' Plot.  At least 200 Chinese men were buried there.  More research is needed to find out if the Chinese were indigent or if Asians were not allowed elsewhere in the cemetery.  Some are “unknown” but many are named and at one time there were probably grave markers for some.  In April of 1880 twenty-two Chinese men, killed in a powder explosion at Flemmings Point**, were buried side by side.  The earliest burial registers indicate that large numbers of Chinese burials were later removed from the cemetery for burial elsewhere, most to China (a widespread custom) and a few to other plots in the cemetery.  In addition to the Chinese graves there are records of a few Japanese and Indian burials.

[Text by Gaye Lenahan, Mountain View Docents]

*Potter’s field: a piece of ground reserved as a burial place for strangers and the friendless poor.             Matt.27:7              Random House Dictionary Unabridged

** Flemmings Point: site of munitions manufacture and many accidental explosions in Albany near today’s Golden Gate Fields.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Julia Morgan Designed Gravestones at Mountain View Cemetery

Julia Morgan's Hockenbeamer gravestone and detail (Photos by Michael Colbruno)

One of the most popular graves at Mountain View Cemetery is that of architect Julia Morgan, who was the first woman to be licensed to practice architecture in California. She also happens to be one of the most famous architects in history, having designed Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the Asilomar Conference Center, the Campanile at UC Berkeley, the Margaret Carnegie Library, portions of the Chapel of the Chimes just outside of the front gate of Mountain View Cemetery and the redesign of the landmark Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco after it was damaged by the earthquake of 1906.

Most people probably don't realize that Julia Morgan also designed two of the gravestones at Mountain View Cemetery, which sit next to each other in Plot 4 just to the right of the second fountain down the main road. Morgan designed both the personal homes and gravestones for August Frederick Hockenbeamer, the president of PG&E, and Richard Bartlett Ayer, a prominent wine merchant.

Julia Morgan's Ayer gravestone and detail (Photos by Michael Colbruno)
The Ayer gravestone was designed in 1928, which was during the time that she was designing numerous YWCA's at the beheast of Phoebe Apperson Hearst. The gravestone stands about 5' tall and is made of light gray granite. The design is Streamlined Moderne, which was a more understated version of the Art Deco style popular at the time. On each side, one can see a four-leaf clover design with three long stems or lines. Morgan designed a German Medieval-style home in Piedmont for the Ayer's in 1914.

The Ayer home in Piedmont
The Hockenbeamer gravestone is also in the Streamined Moderne style and was designed in 1935. It is made of a longer slab of gray granite and stands about 6' tall. It features rose blossoms on each side. Morgan designed the Hockenbeamer home in Piedmont in 1914. You can read more about the Hockenbeamer's at our previous post.

Julia Morgan's vast legacy includes a few other funerary designs, including the aforementioned Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, the Homelani Columbarium in Hilo, Hawaii and the Chapel of the Chimes Mortuary in Santa Rosa, California.