Historic Stow Lake due for name change in wake of namesake anti-Jewish rant

Lee Heidhues 10.20.2022

The name Stow Lake is due for a historic name change.

Stow Lake is about to get waved away by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  Turns out William W. Stow was notorious for both his antisemitic rantings and being a member of the xenophobic Know Nothing party.

Stow Lake has held this name for nearly 130 years. Why it is taking so long to correct this historical error is a legitimate question given the fact Jewish people have long held a prominent political and social place in San Francisco.

Perhaps most prominent is Levi Strauss & Co., a worldwide corporation founded in San Francisco and whose founders were Jewish. 

The landmark Temple Emanuel is just a mile away from Stow Lake.

The Jewish News of California 10.19.2022

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.

Stow Lake I 10.20.2022

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.

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 Lake II 10.20.2022.jpg

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.

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