Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park (Photo/Flickr-Patrick G CC)
Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park (Photo/Flickr-Patrick G CC)

These are the 12 names in the running to replace Stow Lake

Though suggestions continue to trickle in, San Francisco Supervisor Myrna Melgar this week gave J. a list of 12 prime contenders to replace the name “Stow Lake” after it became widely known that its namesake, Gold Rush-era politician William W. Stow, despised Jews.

The supervisors passed a resolution in October urging park officials to rename the popular walking and boating destination in Golden Gate Park. City residents have shown up this month at two public meetings hosted by Melgar’s office to suggest and debate options.

More names continue to arrive at Melgar’s District 7 office, which has spearheaded the process. Below is the short list of nominees:

Mary Ellen Pleasant Lake. Referred to as the “Mother of Civil Rights in California,” Pleasant was a Black businesswoman and abolitionist during the Gold Rush era. In 1866, after being denied access to a San Francisco streetcar, she sued the responsible railroad company.

Herb Caen Lake. Legendary journalist and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Caen, who died in 1997, has been honored with Herb Caen Way off the Embarcadero.

Judge Quentin Kopp Lake. Former member of the S.F. Board of Supervisors and California State Senate and a retired Superior Court judge. Kopp already has been honored with a namesake freeway in San Bruno. (Kopp is a member of J.’s board of directors.)

Cissie Swig Lake. A supporter of the arts, Roselyne “Cissie” Swig is a donor and board trustee at institutions, including SFMOMA and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and a former board president of the Jewish Community Federation. 

Patrick Quigley Lake. One of Golden Gate Park’s first employees and a foreman of construction who oversaw the building of much of the park, including Stow Lake.

Ho Feng Shan Lake. Chinese consul general in Vienna from 1938 to 1940 who issued visas to thousands of Jews seeking to escape the Nazis. He later settled in San Francisco.

Joan Davenny Lake. Born in San Francisco, Davenny was killed by a suicide bomb in Jerusalem in 1995. She was a Jewish schoolteacher in Connecticut on sabbatical studying culture and history.

Ramaytush Ohlone Lake. Original peoples of the San Francisco Peninsula.

Strawberry Lake. Strawberry Hill is an island within Stow Lake.

Blue Heron Lake. Blue herons nest on Strawberry Hill in April and May. This is the most suggested name, according to Melgar’s office.

Turtle Lake. Turtles live in Stow Lake.

Mikveh Lake. Suggested by a J. reader who in the 1960s used the lake as a Jewish ritual bath on the holiday of Shavuot.

Myrna Melgar
Myrna Melgar

Once more names have been collected, Melgar’s office will create a poll asking the public to vote their preference.

The supervisor then expects to form a subcommittee of people who have shown a commitment to the process. Using the results of the public poll, the subcommittee will generate a short list to  submit to the Recreation and Park Commission, which will either choose a new name or keep the existing one.

“I am excited by the robust participation of people in the community in the process,” Melgar, who is Jewish and attends services at Congregation Am Tikvah, told J. “There have been a lot more people interested than I was expecting, including folks who are not Jewish but understand the importance of the moment, so that is really great.”

Melgar’s office will organize at least one more community meeting at a date to be announced, because the Recreation and Park Commission requires a minimum of three in order to consider a renaming of facilities it manages.

Her office will also use this process as a teaching moment. Melgar’s staff is producing a video for school-age children that explains why the name change is being considered, and discusses the current climate of hatred and antisemitism in the U.S. Students will also have an opportunity to suggest names.

“We think youth participation is important, but it’s also a good moment to talk about these issues, about antisemitism, about the moment that we’re living in in this country, to talk about the past and give them a way to weigh into the future,” Melgar said.

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.