Neptune Society Columbarium: SF’s Hidden Historical Gem

Antara Murshed
Contributing Writer


Nestled at the end of a residential court between Anza and Geary, the Neptune Society Columbarium stands tall as a tribute to baroque and neoclassical architecture. The main building has a large dominating dome and stained glass windows. An accompanying building with an office and more niches sits adjacent to the domed building with a garden in between. Iron gates guard the entrance to the structure that has existed for over a hundred years. It is the only columbarium in San Francisco that is a designated landmark and open to the public.

After passing through the gates, there is a path to the entrance of the columbarium. The inside of the building is set up as a circular tower, with three floors splitting off into eight directions. On the first floor, each of the eight sections was named after the mythological winds. One of the very first niches set up near the entrance is Harvey Milk’s memorial (his ashes remain at the columbarium). The ashes of musician Carlos Santana’s parents also rest here. The entire inside of the building is stacked with niches for the ashes of those who wished to have their resting place at the Neptune Society Columbarium. Some niches are decorated elaborately with jewelry or flags or anything that was significant to the deceased. The ceiling is adorned with renaissance era paintings of cherubs. There is absolute silence in the columbarium, even the security guard inside is quiet.

Returning to the path outside the building there are flowers and bushes on both sides leading to the adjacent building and to the iron gates. The peaceful fauna, the stillness and silence of the columbarium, and the knowledge of being in the presence of the final resting place for many people made visiting the columbarium a very serene experience.

The serenity and beauty of the columbarium can be isolating enough that if one walked past the iron gates without going inside the buildings, they would not know they were at a repository for human ashes.

However, from the moment I stepped onto the property, I had a weird strange sense of foreboding, as if I were intruding on something. Visiting the columbarium feels like being in a place from another time and is a sight to be taken in but it is also a place where people go to pay their respects to those who have passed away. It is not recommended to visit the columbarium in large, loud groups.

If one feels spiritual or desires to isolate oneself from the outside world and have a brief change of pace, the columbarium may be a good place to visit. The Neptune Society Columbarium has presence of transcendence in San Francisco and to see and respect it is an opportunity for a spiritual experience. 

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