Even in the rain, Oakland’s Chapel of the Chimes emits a kind of glow. Located on Piedmont Avenue at the foot of Mountain View Cemetery, the arrestingly beautiful building (a 1928 expansion was designed by Julia Morgan) has seen Bay Area residents from famous to obscure put to eternal rest. The 102-year-old Chapel—named a California historical landmark in 1999—houses not only a funeral home, mausoleum, and columbarium, but also a crematorium. Below, Harley Forrey, the chapel’s general manager for more than 10 years, fills us in on life and death at the quiet end of the Avenue.
What exactly do you do at Chapel of the Chimes?
In a nutshell, it’s serving families with end-of-life care. Not only in their time of need, but also in making preparations before their time of need comes. They can actually plan, or choose for themselves.
Favorite part of your job?
A satisfied family member leaving here. It’s knowing that you have helped someone through a very, very difficult time in their life.
Funny Chapel of the Chimes moment?
A fox got into the mausoleum and ran through the entire building for half of a day. We finally opened all the doors on the main floor, and starting on the second floor we walked through the building making all kind of loud noises, until the fox made his way down to the main floor and out the door. It was quite amusing watching all of the staff trying to herd a fox.
Most unusual service?
When a retired fireman passed and the local fire department, with full honors, used an older fire truck as the hearse.
Ever had a supernatural experience at the Chapel?
Something people may not know about Chapel of the Chimes?
We welcome people to come through the building and take pictures, and people do. We get a lot of nice compliments. We’ve even had a mixer for the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. There are so many people who love to walk up and down [Piedmont Avenue], and then they walk on into the cemetery.
Do you have a favorite place to go in the East Bay?
Both my wife and I enjoy just driving the Bay Area. We live in Pittsburg and we go through the Caldecott Tunnel every day, and that’s beautiful. We also spend a lot of time in Jack London Square, enjoying the weekend markets, the vegetable stands and all, just walking around. And of course, we love going to the marina in Jack London, down by the water.
Favorite place to grab a bite?
What comes to mind, being so close to us, is Fenton’s Creamery. Not just for a quick bite, but the whole atmosphere. Good ice cream, and good sandwiches. But my favorite restaurant would be Scott’s downtown.
Favorite place to go on a date?
Well, we’ve been married for 42 years, so when you say dates, I think it’s a little beyond that. But we love to go out camping, going into the city, spending time with the grandkids and our kids. Number one is family, first, and job second.
Favorite camping spot?
We try to go to a lot of the KOA’s. We’ll stay in Half Moon Bay on the State Beach, but we’ll go to the Tahoe Area or the Russian River area as well.
Of course, I have the iPhone. You get to where you count on it, not only for your personal life, but your business life as well.
Place to take out-of-towners?
One place we like to go is the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory in San Leandro. You can go in and see how they make it, and they have all sorts of shops to buy chocolate. Also, when we have an out-of-town guest, I’ll show them where I work, and we’ll drive down [Piedmont Avenue]. It’s really a diverse area. There are a lot of neat shops and it’s a great place to walk around. Very limited parking, though; that’s the downside.
Common misconception about the East Bay?
People always mention the traffic in the Bay Area, but it’s not that bad. Rush hour is bad, of course, but if you come here on the weekend, or after hours, it’s no different than any other city. A lot of people don’t realize the beauty we have in the hills, right here in our own city. It’s not all just roads and concrete and traffic. There’s just beautiful landscape.
Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, (510) 654-0123; lifemarkgroup.com/oakland/index.aspx.
Fentons Creamery, 4226 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, (510) 658-7000; fentonscreamery.com.
Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, 1111 139th Ave., San Leandro, (510) 352-7827; ghirardelli.com.
Half Moon Bay State Beach Camping, 95 Kelly Ave., Half Moon Bay, (650) 726-8819; parks.ca.gov.
Jack London Square Farmer’s Market, Walter Street, between Franklin and Harrison, Oakland, jacklondonsquare.com/events/farmersmarket.html.
Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, (510) 658-2588; mountainviewcemetery.org.
Scott’s Seafood Restaurant in Jack London Square, 2 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 444-3456; scottsjls.com.
Wine Country KOA, 1166 Asti Ridge Road, Cloverdale, (707) 894-3337; winecountrykoa.com.