From a distance, with its towering cross, the edifice on a north Everett hill near Legion Memorial Golf Course appears to be a church.
It isn’t. Founded in 1940 by prominent local families, it is View Crest Abbey Mausoleum.
Inside, along marbled walls of a long central space, are crypts containing caskets. In alcoves, placed in glass cases, are urns holding ashes.
In all, the remains of an estimated 4,500 people are entombed in the mausoleum, said Pete Cameron, general manager of Everett’s Evergreen Funeral Home and Cemetery. The Everett cemetery, owned by Dignity Memorial, maintains but doesn’t own the mausoleum.
On a bronze plaque near the entrance are founders’ names. Many are well known in Everett: Denney, Gunderson, Hogland, Maulsby, Stuchell, Trask and more.
They represent the lives and achievements of Everett’s past — businesses, professions, social connections.
Of all those entombed, one family name — Gulbrandson — is personal to Cameron.
“My great-grandparents are there, and a great-uncle, Ronald Gulbrandson,” Cameron said. “He graduated from Everett High and was killed in World War II. He stepped on a land mine in Luxembourg.”
Ronald Oliver Gulbrandson, whose urn is encased with those of his parents, Herman and Anna Gulbrandson, was killed Nov. 4, 1944.
Born in 1918, his photo is in Everett High’s 1936 Nesika yearbook. He was on the school’s pep squad.
According to a Seattle Times article published Oct. 26, 1947, Ronald Gulbrandson was first buried in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. Staff Sgt. Gulbrandson and Capt. Charles R. Wheeler were two Everett soldiers whose remains were returned to the United States by the Army in October 1947, along with the bodies of 60 others from Washington.
“He was my uncle,” said historian David Cameron, Pete’s 78-year-old father, who lives in Index. David Cameron’s mother, Helene Cameron, was Ronald’s sister. Herman and Anna were David’s grandparents — he called them “Ma” and “Pa.”
The elder Cameron, who’s been president of the Index Historical Society, grew up in Everett and taught at Cascade High School. He has “snatches of memories” of the uncle he lost in the war.
“The last memory I have isn’t really of him,” he said, recalling the old Great Northern depot on Everett’s Bond Street. “It’s when he was shipped out. I was a little kid, terrified of noise. Standing there in the dark, that train was like a monster — with steam, smoke and noise.”
David Cameron said he has Ronald Gulbrandson’s uniform cap, “and of course the flag used at the ceremony at City Hall.” The soldier’s body lay in state at Everett’s City Hall before his urn was placed in the mausoleum, he said. He believes his uncle was the first local casualty of the war brought home to Everett, “rather than being buried overseas.”
At the mausoleum Wednesday, Pete Cameron showed the niche where the urns of his great-uncle and great-grandparents are in a glass and bronze case.
A small American flag is next to Ronald’s urn, while near his father’s is a Norwegian flag. Herman and Anna emigrated from Norway in 1907, according to a 2011 obituary for Fred Gulbrandson, Ronald’s brother. An Everett builder, Fred lived to be 105.
The mausoleum’s interior, where daylight shines through skylights, is surprisingly lovely compared to the outside’s aging dusty-rose paint. Many crypts have floral decor. “The outside doesn’t do justice to the inside,” Pete Cameron said.
A closer look shows some crypt letters are missing. Overhead windows have leaked in the past. And this final resting place has a troubled history.
According to a 1998 Herald article, View Crest Abbey was victimized in the 1970s when someone stole endowment funds. Vandals have defaced the place with graffiti. In 2007, detectives investigating burglaries found bronze nameplates that had been stolen from the mausoleum.
Ownership of View Crest Abbey is also clouded. In the late 1990s, according to The Herald, it was owned by the Loewen Group. That national corporation acquired it when it bought Evergreen in 1993.
Yet Snohomish County’s 2019 records show the owner and current taxpayer for the mausoleum at 2901 Whitehorse Trail to be Malar Enterprises Inc., listed on the assessor’s website with only an Everett post office box as its address. As of Friday, Texas-based Dignity Memorial had no information about the mausoleum’s owner.
“We know we don’t own the property,” said Pete Cameron, who’s been with Evergreen for two years. The mausoleum is “sold out,” he said. Each year, Evergreen handles the entombment of just a few people who bought crypts there years ago.
A landscape crew from Evergreen was there Wednesday, making sure the place on the hill would be ready for Memorial Day visitors.
View Crest Abbey Mausoleum is open only on holidays, Memorial Day weekend among them, and by appointment. “It has a lot of connections in the community,” Pete Cameron said. “Some people probably have relatives here and don’t know it.”
David Cameron has visited View Crest Abbey, but rarely. Interested in bringing history to life, he shared parts of letters his uncle sent home before he died.
From France, on July 26, 1944, Ronald Gulbrandson wrote this to his older brother Fred:
“We are still fighting and it’s plenty rugged. I guess a person doesn’t realize how lucky he is sometimes. The boys who come up soon turn to men and after a while are old soldiers.”