Oct 25, 2022 - News

Lake name's legacy prompts call for change

Stow Lake

Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. Photo: John S. Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images

A move is underway to rename Golden Gate Park's Stow Lake because it honors an historical figure who wanted to force Jewish people out of California.

What's happening: Last week, District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, along with Supervisors Connie Chan and Aaron Peskin, introduced a resolution urging the Rec and Park Commission to remove "Stow" from the lake's name, citing concerns that the 19th century state Assemblymember it honors, William Stow, held anti-Semitic views.

  • The resolution notes Stow's idea of a "Jew tax" meant to force Jewish people out of the state and his 1856 gubernatorial bid on the "Know Nothing" ticket, a party known for its xenophobic and anti-immigrant policies.

What they're saying: "While we can recognize a person's contributions to our city, we cannot ignore the harm they've caused … [and] when we have the opportunity to repair harm to a community that has been targeted by hate, we should take it." Lila Carrillo, a spokesperson for Melgar, told Axios.

  • The resolution, which also calls for Stow's name to be taken off the nearby boathouse and roadway, does cite that, during his time on the parks commission, he "significantly led and fundraised for the development of the lake and the waterfall, known as Huntington Falls."
  • "Golden Gate Park was his chief pride and pleasure," former San Francisco Mayor Frank McCoppin said in Stow's 1895 obituary. "He loved it better every day."

Why it matters: Although San Francisco has changed the names of parks and removed statues amid a national reckoning with how to honor controversial figures of the past, it's also been in the national spotlight for its fumbled attempt last year to rename dozens of public schools that it initially deemed problematic.

  • Since then, name changes in San Francisco, including that of its oldest law school, have captured the public's attention.

Details: Carrillo said the resolution will likely be heard by the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee in December or January, then move to a vote from the full board.

  • If passed, the resolution will be sent to the Rec and Park panel, which will ultimately decide if the lake will be renamed.

Melgar, who is Jewish, vowed earlier this summer to make the Stow Lake renaming effort a priority after years of the issue going relatively unnoticed by local politicians.

  • Of note: April's redrawing of district lines moved Stow Lake from District 1 to Melgar's District 7.

What we're watching: San Francisco resident Nancy DeStefanis, who's been running nature programs in Golden Gate Park for over 20 years, told Axios that she plans to start a campaign that calls for the lake to be named "Blue Heron Lake," after the blue herons that nest there each spring.

  • "If you look at the other lakes [in Golden Gate Park], they're not named after people," DeStefanis said. "I think [that's] a good thing."
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