Presentation Park
Allston Way and California Street

Berkeley is well known for its liberal inclusionary public policies, but there is one important group that has been overlooked: the deceased. Residents unabashedly bury dogs, cats, and hamsters throughout the city, but an ordinance passed in 1910 declares it unlawful “…to bury, inter, or cause to be interred, the dead body of any person…or to maintain a cemetery or graveyard within the limits of the City.” A possible exception is made for columbaria but the formal storage of cremains has only recently been allowed on an extremely limited basis.

Though early native human remains have been excavated in what is now Berkeley, burials from early colonial times forward seem to have been rare. in 1865 Jose Domingo Peralta, whose father Don Luis Maria Peralta deeded him the land that would become Berkeley, was buried in Oakland’s Saint Mary’s Cemetery. Subsequently the bodies of more than 70 of his family members were interred near him.

Contrary to common practice, there were burials in a small 19th century convent garden on the banks of Strawberry Creek near today’s Presentation Park. Led by Irish immigrant Sister Mary Teresa Comerford, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary established their convent in 1877. Sister Mary Teresa was buried here. After Berkeley passed its ordinance forbidding internment, the remains of the founding sister and those sisters subsequently been buried near her were moved to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Oakland.

Anecdotal evidence of the illegal scattering and the underground undergrounding of human ashes in Tilden Park and neighborhood backyards abounds. Occasional aberrant discoveries like a coffin with human bones found behind a wall in an Ashby Avenue apartment building in 2006, further attest to some residents’ insistence on a more inclusive city policy regarding their beloved ones.

Contributed by Robert Kehlmann, 2014

  • First Saint Joseph School and Convent (1878-1892), photo

  • Plaque commemmoratig the historic site, photo (2014) R. Kehlmann

  • St. Joseph's Church postcard (c.1915), Berkeley Public Library

  • Historic entry post St. Joseph's Presentation Academy (2014), photo R. Kehlmann

  • San Francisco Call, August 23, 1910

  • Grotto built by Presentation Sisters after cemetary removal (ca.1921),

  • Mother Mary Teresa Comerford, photo

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society