CHAPEL OF MEMORIES COLUMBARIUM
4401 Howe Street
Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: (510) 654-1288
No Official Website
Bella Morte Rating: 5 Tombstones
Located a mere block away from the breathtaking beauty of Chapel of the Chimes, the Chapel of Memories is not to be missed. If, upon approaching the impressive structure, it seems to be deserted, do not be deterred. On the day of our visit, we thought the building would be locked...but, upon trying the door, we were pleasantly surprised as it swung wide to afford a view of the circular heart of the columbarium. An exquisite tile floor with red (Grecian-motif) border caused our voices and the sound of our footsteps to reverberate in the vast, round room which is walled with glass-fronted niches of various sizes. Here, the eye is drawn upward toward the unusual dome, and it is in lifting one's gaze that the words of Matthew 11:28, painstakingly rendered in goldleaf, offer the age-old promise: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Above the brilliant lettering is the first of a series of intricate wrought-iron balustrades which give the feel of being in a Mediterranean Villa. Quite unusual!
The main floor, like those which rise above it, is flanked with diminutive alcoves housing even more urns. Like her "big sister" (Chapel of the Chimes) there are some impressively large urns which hold the cremains of generations of family members. Unlike the Chapel of the Chimes, however, is the inconsistency of "splendour," for, as one climbs to higher levels of this Chapel, many of the niches are fronted with marble (some of which is cracked) and those that do have glass house much smaller and more modest urns. Also in evidence is damage from water leaks. There is a sense of age and decrepitude...and yet, an aura of peace and tranquility remains.
The Chapel of Memories tries to keep one glorious secret, so when you visit do not let her deceive you! The building has an entire wing that can be easily missed if you aren't paying attention. As you stand at the front door, dazzled by the overwhelming beauty, remember to explore the area that will be on your right thoroughly, for it is there you will find passage to a hallway which houses numerous galleries overflowing with even more niches! One room, in particular, dazzled the proprietors of Bella Morte. Awash in the soft glow of afternoon sunlight refracted off hundreds of bronze urns, it gives one the feeling of walking in an atmosphere of scintillant, soft-spun gold. At one time, this room housed an "eternal flame," however, lack of funding has sadly extinguished it. Nevertheless, it is a pure delight... a library of souls. Like the other rooms in this section, it offers passage to other rooms filled with even more urns, though none so resplendent as it. Some of the niche rooms are rendered completely in marble, others in bronze and glass.
A bronze plaque affixed to one of the walls bears this quotation from Frances E. Willard (suffragette, prohibitionist and champion of women's rights 1839-1898):
I have the purpose to help forward
progressive movements even in my latest
hours, and hence hereby decree that the
earthly mantle, which I shall drop ere long,
when my real self passes onward into the
world unseen, shall be swiftly enfolded
in flames and rendered powerless harm-
fully to affect the health of the living.
Let no friend of mine say aught to prevent
the cremation of my cast off body. The fact
that the popular mind has not come to this
decision renders it all the more my duty,
who have seen the light, to stand for it
in death, as I have sincerely meant in life
to stand for the great cause of poor
The exterior of the building does have some traditional crypts for full-body entombment, but as far as we could tell, the interior is strictly a columbarium... one which serves as an after-life neighbourhood to over 40,000 souls (and counting)! You would do yourself a grave disservice (pun most assuredly intended) if you did not include the Chapel of Memories on your itinerary when planning a visit to Oakland's crypts and tombs.