Blue Heron Lake, for the great blue herons who nest seasonally at the lake, is one of the frontrunners. (Photo/Wikimedia-Alpinekid CC BY-SA 4.0)
Blue Heron Lake, for the great blue herons who nest seasonally at the lake, is one of the frontrunners. (Photo/Wikimedia-Alpinekid CC BY-SA 4.0)

What should Stow Lake’s new name be? We asked, you answered

We recently asked our readers what they think Stow Lake’s new name should be. In light of its namesake, noted antisemite and former California State Assembly Speaker William W. Stow, the picturesque Golden Gate Park attraction is overdue for a new name.

A public meeting of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission on June 1 will be the first of three meetings that must be held before the lake can be renamed. On the agenda, of course, will be suggestions for new names.

Some J. readers wrote in with suggestions that recognized the natural beauty of the man-made lake, completed in 1893, while others preferred a restorative approach, opting for names that would recognize famous Jewish San Franciscans. Some sent in jokes. (Others, whom we’ll not address here, objected to the very premise of the exercise.)

Several readers embraced Blue Heron Lake, which recognizes the blue herons who seasonally nest at the lake. S.F. Supervisor Myrna Melgar recently told constituents in a newsletter that Blue Heron Lake is “the leading contender.” (Melgar, who is Jewish, has been one of the loudest voices calling for the name change.)

“I walk at Stow Lake all the time,” Eileen Auerbach wrote. “It is one of my favorite sites in the City. I never realized that the Stow name was that of an antisemite…. Blue Heron Lake is a lovely new name, but frankly, I think that any name would be better than that of an antisemite.”

“Blue Heron Lake is poetic,” wrote David Cohen of San Jose. “It’s certainly back to reality and distant from the Stow hate. It’s probably the best name. Feinstein Lake would be the ultimate Stow slap. But she ‘ain’t dead yet’ so, being against naming anything after a living person, that must not happen yet.”

Whatever you think of naming buildings and sites after living people, he was one of three people pulling for Sen. Dianne Feinstein. (Well, two votes for Feinstein Lake and one for “Lake Diane,” which we assume is a reference to the former San Francisco mayor.)

Other suggestions for human names included the late Warren Hellman, the billionaire investment banker and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass founder; Herb Caen, the iconic 20th-century newspaperman and chronicler of life in San Francisco; and, on a more somber note, Joan Davenny, a Jewish San Franciscan killed in a terrorist attack in Israel in 1995.

Several respondents were adamant that it not be named for a person at all. My own editor, Sue Barnett, suggested future-proofing it: “You never know what we’ll find out about someone later on.” Even Blue Heron Lake isn’t good enough for this San Francisco native: “What if they stop nesting there?” Her suggestion: Bird Lake. And our CEO Jo Ellen Green Kaiser threw in Turtle Lake because she used to go there with her daughter to look at the turtles.

And then there was Lakey McLakeface

Sue also heartily endorsed Pink Popcorn Lake named for the made-in-San Francisco snack — a brick of stale popcorn shot through with pink dye — that was cherished by all ages and once sold in the Stow Lake Boathouse. (The reader who submitted Pink Popcorn Lake sent it with the wildly optimistic email subject line, “Winning lake name.”)

And then there was Lakey McLakeface, a not-at-all-serious suggestion (or is it?) from @maimonides_nutz, the local Jewish social media personality. (For those whose brains aren’t full of meme culture trivia, this is a reference to Boaty McBoatface, the name famously selected by the collective wisdom of the internet in 2016 as the name for a new polar research vessel.)

But here are my three real favorites from the many suggestions received:

Emperor Norton Lake for the eccentric Jewish San Franciscan who proclaimed himself in 1859 “Norton I, Emperor of the United States.” This was suggested by someone identifying himself only as Steve.

Ho Feng-Shan Lake for the Chinese diplomat who issued unauthorized visas to Jews fleeing the Holocaust and later settled in San Francisco. This suggestion came from Shabi Fiumei, a Jewish student at Taipei National University of the Arts, who is involved with a campaign to have a public place in S.F. named after Ho. The diplomat was one of the founders of Chinese Lutheran Church on Balboa Street, not many blocks from the lake.

“The area around the park has a sizable Jewish and Chinese/Taiwanese population,” writes Fiumei. “It has many synagogues and other Jewish establishments, so in a way, it symbolizes well the connection between Chinese and Jewish history, to which Ho Fengshan is a direct, strong link.”

Mikvah Lake came from Lynn Reichman, currently of Oregon. She lived for two years in the original House of Love and Prayer on Arguello, the famous Jewish counterculture hangout founded by Shlomo Carlebach in San Francisco in the late 1960s. In those days, according to Reichman, House of Love and Prayer residents would use the lake as a mikvah early in the morning on the holiday of Shavuot. (Any natural body of water can serve as a mikvah.)

On Shavuot 1969, “the cops drove in at dawn, their car lights shining in the fog,” Reichman wrote to me. “Someone yelled, ‘Cops! Duck!’ And we plunged and stayed down, holding our breaths in the very murky, dark muddy water of Stow Lake as long as we could.”

After that story, you have to ask yourself, what more perfectly Jewish San Francisco name could there be than Mikvah Lake?

To have your voice heard about renaming Stow Lake, join the community meeting will on Zoom June 1 at 6 p.m.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is director of news product at J. He previously served as assistant editor and digital editor. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @davidamwilensky