A years-long campaign to change the name of Stow Lake, named for a man with an ugly legacy of antisemitism, has resulted in a short list of ten suggested new names for the 130-year-old man-made lake.
Last year, the law school formerly known as UC Hastings was renamed UC Law San Francisco, a name change brought on by a reckoning with its 19th Century founder Serranus Hastings’s history of Native American genocide and enslavement. And nationally, we’ve seen a couple other renamings of the Washington, D.C. NFL team and Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team as those franchises eventually bowed to sentiment that their previous names seemed kind of racist.
Next up for a name change may be Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake. The 130-year-old man-made lake is named for the man who largely raised the money to complete it in 1893, former state Assembly Speaker William W. Stow. The SF Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in May urging Rec and Parks to change the name of Stow Lake, because of Stow’s history of antisemitism. And today the Chronicle reports that Supervisor Myrna Melgar’s office has produced a short list of ten proposed new names for Stow Lake that would not be tainted by Stow’s legacy of bigotry.
Was William W. Stow too antisemitic to have a prominent landmark named for him? Consider an 1855 speech he gave on the Assembly floor, dug up by the Jewish News of Northern California.
“I have no sympathy with the Jews and would it were in my power to enforce a regulation that would eliminate them from not only our county but from the entire state,” Stow reportedly said. “I am for a Jew tax that is so high that (Jews) would not be able to operate any more shops. They are a class of people here only to make money and who leave the country as soon as they make money.”
Seems bad! So some of the proposed new names are historical figures one would feel better honoring: Underground Railroad figure and legacy SF resident Mary Ellen Pleasant, who’s considered to be the first Black woman millionaire, 20th Century Chinese diplomat Ho Feng Shan known as the “Chinese Schindler” for saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust by discreetly issuing them visas, William Hammond Hall and Patrick Quigley who helped design the park, and others.
There’s also a category of suggestions that are nods to the wildlife and environment there: Blue Heron Lake, Turtle Lake, and Strawberry Lake, a nod to the lake’s Strawberry Island.
The full list of ten proposed names, seen below, is not final. Melgar’s office is still taking suggestions, and the final call goes to the SF Rec and Parks Commission, who may not even decide to change the name. (Ironically, William W. Stow once sat on that very commission.) The commission is expected to consider the matter early next year.
The current ten proposed new names for Stow Lake are as follows:
• Blue Heron Lake or Heron Lake
• Joan Davenny Lake
• Dr. Ho Feng Shan Lake
• Lake Hall (for William Hammond Hall)
• Mikveh Lake
• Mary Ellen Pleasant Lake or Pleasant Lake
• Patrick Quigley Lake
• Ramaytush Ohlone Lake
• Strawberry Lake
• Turtle Lake
Image: SF 3/21/19 - Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park (Getty Images)