Stow Lake today in Golden Gate Park. (Wikimedia/Brocken Inaglory)
Stow Lake today in Golden Gate Park. (Wikimedia/Brocken Inaglory)

S.F. supes’ resolution urges renaming Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake, named for politician who proposed ‘Jew-tax’

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Three San Francisco supervisors introduced a resolution this week to change the name of Stow Lake, which for 129 years has honored an openly antisemitic Gold Rush-era politician.

The lake in Golden Gate Park is named after William W. Stow, a California state assemblyman elected in 1853. On the Assembly floor, while arguing with a Jewish tradesman, he said: “I have no sympathy with the Jews and would, were it in my power, enforce a regulation that would eliminate them from not only our county, but from the entire state.” He went on to call for a “Jew-tax so high” that Jews would no longer be able to operate businesses. His comments are recorded in the book “Jewish Voices of the California Gold Rush.”

The resolution, introduced Oct. 18 by supervisors Myrna Melgar, Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan, urges the Recreation and Park Commission to remove Stow’s name from the lake, the surrounding drive and an adjacent boathouse.

The measure lists problematic positions Stow held, his antisemitic rhetoric and policy suggestions, and his allegiance to the xenophobic Know Nothing party.

“Stow Lake is the biggest lake in Golden Gate Park and attracts many tourists and residents as a prominent site for outdoor enjoyment and activities, making it a landmark representing San Francisco and our values,” the resolution says. “Our parks and outdoor spaces are for everyone in our diverse community and should not enshrine names of persons who utilize their positions of power to promote hatred or exclusion.”

Melgar, whose District 7 encompasses Stow Lake, introduced the resolution with two fellow supervisors. Melgar and Peskin are both Jewish.

“I’m pretty confident [the resolution] will go through, because I’ve talked to all of my colleagues about it already,” Melgar told J.

The process starts in the Rules Committee, led by Peskin. If the issue is approved, all 11 supervisors will then vote on the resolution, which requires a simple majority to pass.

Steve Miller is out to change the name of Golden Gate Park's Stow Lake. (Courtesy Miller)
Steve Miller

Steve Miller, a San Francisco resident and member of Congregation Beth Sholom, has been advocating about the matter to the Board of Supervisors for several years. In 2019, he told J. that if the city were to rename the lake, it would “send a message to everyone that we take antisemitism seriously.” He said he was “mystified” it hadn’t been done already.

In a more recent interview this summer, Miller said he was “tremendously grateful” to Melgar for championing the issue. “If successful, we can then celebrate one small victory in our continuing battle against antisemitism in our community,” he said.

After approval by the Board of Supervisors, the resolution would head to the seven-member Recreation and Park Commission, which would have the final say on the name change. The final step would be to “convene a community working group to look at alternative names,” according to Melgar.

Stow’s 1895 obituary (he died “suddenly and wholly unexpectedly,” according to San Francisco’s Call newspaper) said he served as park commissioner and credited him with being responsible for much of the development of Golden Gate Park in the late 1800s.

Melgar said she first became aware of the issue in July when J. informed her about the lake’s namesake; she responded by pledging to take action, saying modern values like inclusivity ought to be reflected in public spaces.

Stow Lake is not the first San Francisco public space to see name-changing efforts. Three years ago, Julius Kahn Playground, named after a 12-term member of Congress in the early 20th century who supported an extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act, was renamed to Presidio Wall Playground.

Gabe Fisher
Gabe Fisher

Gabe Fisher is a freelance journalist who served as interim editorial assistant at J. in 2022. Follow him on Twitter @ItsGabeFisher.