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San Francisco’s Columbarium – where you can truly leave your heart


Oh, how the residents of San Francisco love their city! So often they’ll say, “We never plan to leave here. Never!” That’s a great sentiment, but the reality is that nearly everyone will someday have to leave this place, because there are no public cemeteries within the city limits.

One of the only places where cremated remains can be stored in San Francisco is the Columbarium, operated by The Neptune Society. The grand main building, built in 1898, is all that’s left of the Lone Mountain cemetery after the graves were removed – and that building has recently sold its last niche. So to accommodate future residents, a series of annexes are planned. The first one opened recently, and a “Meet Your Neighbors” mixer was planned so that future “residents” could meet their eternal neighbors.

“I don’t know of anybody else that is doing this type of event,” says Matt Outcalt, manager of community and family service for the Neptune Society and San Francisco Columbarium. He says the mixers, held roughly once a year, have proven to be popular.

“We enjoy these get-togethers,” says nearby resident Sharonjean Leeds, “because they’re kind of humorous, on the light side. And I think that as much humor as you can have about death is a good thing.”

Lillian Markinson agrees: “I don’t find this depressing at all. And whenever I have visitors I say, I want to show you where I am, so you can stop by and say hello after I’ve become, you know, uh, horizontal.”

First-time visitors might be surprised to see the whimsical touches on many of the niches: pictures of pets, model cars, and rainbow flags are popular themes, as are what Outcalt describes as “tributes to the person’s life.”

Vicky Walker and Wade Grubb of Bernal Heights haven’t decided yet “what knick-knacks we’re going to put in there.”

For the time being Walker suggests perhaps a “Coming Soon” sign, or “Coming Not So Soon.” She calls it their “double-wide.” Many others refer to their “apartments” or “condos,” depending on the size.

All these neighbors will be quiet, that’s for sure. The Leeds’ stress that they are good neighbors now, and they will continue to be once they “move in” here, “in perpetuity.”

The wine and cheese from the reception is almost gone, but the harpist – herself the owner of a niche – continues to play as people begin filing out, respectfully, neighborly, knowing that they’ll always have a place in their beloved City by the Bay. 

Audio available after 5pm.