I arrive at the Chapel of the Chimes just as the sun is beginning to set across the bay over the city of San Francisco. Stepping inside the wooden entry doors my footsteps echo on the marble steps leading me upward into a series of small chapels. The scent of vintage wood, salt and cool stone drifts in the air as I hurry along hoping to get some photographs before the fading daylight leaves the building in darkness. I navigate through a labyrinth of narrow hallways which open into garden atriums, slip by mosaic fountains graced by serene statuary and pass under several arched gothic-style doorways until I realize I am quite disoriented.
The hillside where the Chapel of the Chimes is located was was originally a trolley car station. It was transformed into a chapel to be used for funeral services in 1902. Julia Morgan, the first licensed female architect in California was one of the architects who contributed to redesigning the building. In 1926 she was hired to create an expansion of the structure and her design, influenced by Romanesque, Gothic and Spanish-Moorish styles captures a classic beauty. The floor-to-ceiling niches in the chapels with their glass-front shelves hold funerary urns, many of which are shaped like books. This part of the building is like a light-filled garden library complete with ferns, a reflecting pool and an inviting wicker chair. I imagine what stories the “books” in this unusual library would tell. I also think about how comforting it must be for the families to come and visit their loved ones in such a peaceful and beautiful resting place.
The sudden silence in the building wakes me from my reverie telling me that I must certainly be the last visitor. In the waning light I find a stairway leading downward and reach the front doors just as they are being locked up for the night. The quiet stillness I have emerged from is in dramatic contrast to the urban life in motion around me. I walk down the street toward a crowded café, thinking about how each day we live out the stories of our lives often unaware of the sunset and the quiet night that is settling in around us.
-Singing Luna 2/8/2014
Learn more about the Chapel of the Chimes on Loren Rhoads blog “Cemetery Travel”: