Article Last Updated: 11/13/2005 06:55 AM Heritage group to present awards
Inside Bay Area THE public is invited to attend Thursday's Oakland Heritage Alliance annual meeting and preservation awards ceremony, event organizers have announced. The setting for this year's meeting is the landmark Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave. There will be a guided tour of the building starting at 6 p.m., followed by a reception, business meeting and board member election, says OHA president Naomi Schiff. And winners of the "Partners in Preservation Awards" will be honored.
"We have received nominations for recognition in preservation advocacy, residential and commercial rehabilitation and adaptive reuse, and green construction techniques," says awards chairperson Valerie Garry. "This year's winners represent strong examples in all categories."
This is the first time OHA has hosted an event at the chapel, says Allison Rodman of Chapel of the Chimes, "and we are pleased to have their members and friends experience this unique architectural treasure."
Rodman has been compiling historical information on the complex, which files say dates from 1909 with the establishment of the California Memorial Crematorium and Columbarium, the first such facility in the East Bay.
"We have come across references to what was previously at this location, namely the last horse car stop on the then-Cemetery Road (later Piedmont Avenue) line," says Rodman.
This final block before the gates of the cemeteries (both St. Mary's and Mountain View) was home to various businesses offering marble monuments and florists. Folks would take a day trip out on the horse car line to visit graves of loved ones, say the files, starting in the 1870s when public transportation from 7th Street and Broadway became available.
The new crematorium incorporated portions of the existing transit station, and shortly thereafter called upon the services of a young, relatively unknown woman architect (just back in town and a recent graduate of the elite Ecole des Beaux Arts of Paris) named Julia Morgan.
"Lawrence F. Moore, manager of the business at the time, our files show, was evidently a true visionary," says Rodman. He commissioned Morgan to create a sanctuary where the public would feel welcome, where a series of cloisters, alcoves, fountains, and gardens — resembling a medieval monastery or a tranquil Islamic mosque courtyard — could be experienced with every visit.
The files say Moore (whose stature in the mortuary industry was heralded at the time of his own death in 1990 at age 88) enlisted Morgan to visit Europe to bring back objects to incorporate into the complex. Lawrence Moore was also active in civic affairs during his long career, serving as Piedmont mayor in the 1940s, the files reveal.
In style and ornament, Morgan's design mixes Gothic, Romanesque, and Mediterranean motifs. She relied on skylights for much of the interior light, and created varying floor levels interconnected with flights of steps — leading to courtyards with fountains, ferns and other plantings.
The first addition credited to Morgan became known as the Frances Willard Columbarium, for the early 20th century feminist leader who publically endorsed the idea of cremation at a time when it was not fully accepted in some quarters.
Rodman has been assembling information on the artists and artisans who worked with Morgan to create this unique contemplative environment. Among them was Marian Simpson, a mosaic muralist (best known for her WPA-era California history murals in the Alameda County Courthouse), and painter Doris Day, who also worked on projects for another Morgan patron, William Randolph Hearst.
"We have records of objects she procured from Europe such as a 13th century balustrade (originally destined for Hearst's San Simon, then installed here) and a 16th century Italian fountain. We also have one of the actual pages from the world famous Gutenberg Bible in our collection," Roman adds.
Thursday's event begins in the "Bible Cloister" where many dozens of bibles and other religious texts donated over the years are displayed. It continues in the main chapel where the awards will be announced.