Columbarium-500.jpgState and local officials gathered in San Francisco Tuesday to celebrate the groundbreaking on a project to expand the only active nondenominational cemetery property in the city.

The Columbarium, located near the intersection of Stanyan and Anza streets near the University of San Francisco, provides 8,500 “niches” for inurnment on its current property, but that number will increase by 5,300 at the end of the project that kicked off Tuesday.

State Sen. Leland Yee and Supervisor Eric Mar were among the dignitaries who attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the project Tuesday morning.

The first phase of the expansion, a new building called the Hall of the Olympians, is scheduled to be completed this fall, while two other buildings–the Hall of Titans and the Hall of Heroes–and an exterior garden will be completed shortly after that.

The Columbarium was originally built in 1896 with the theme of the Greek gods in mind, so the expansion “is trying to stay true to the historical significance of the property,” said Mike Miller, president of the Neptune Society of Northern California, which operates the facility.

The 8,500 niches inside the Columbarium, which cost upwards of $30,000, include pictures and personal memorabilia from the lives of the people inurned there, Miller said.

There are only 28 available niches left, which necessitated the expansion, he said, adding that the project should add 15 to 20 years to the operating life of the property.

Among the building’s current niches is the empty tomb of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco supervisor who was the first openly gay elected official in the U.S.

Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978, by their colleague, Supervisor Dan White.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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