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San Francisco to remove antisemitic name in Golden Gate Park. Here are the renaming options

A Great Blue Heron perches on a branch on Stow Lake inside Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017.
A great blue heron perches on a branch on Stow Lake inside Golden Gate Park. The lake is likely to be renamed—perhaps for the herons. | Source: MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

The process of renaming a lake in Golden Gate Park reached a crucial juncture this week as San Francisco officials conducted community outreach and released a list of the proposed names.

Stow Lake, a recreation spot in one of the most famous urban parks in America, was named after former California Assembly Speaker William W. Stow in the 19th century. However, Stow held antisemitic views and spoke favorably of laws enshrining discrimination against Jewish people.

Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who is Jewish and whose district encompasses the area of the park where the lake is located, initiated the renaming process earlier this year. Her office confirmed to The Standard that the public submitted 10 potential names, including those of some historical figures. Melgar’s office will continue accepting submissions as well.

At the final community meeting on Monday night, supporters of “Pleasant Lake” and “Patrick Quigley Lake” showed up to speak. Pleasant nods to the prominent 19th century Black entrepreneur Mary Ellen Pleasant, and Patrick Quigley was considered the “foreman” of Golden Gate Park’s construction.

Other names include William Hammond Hall, the designer of the park, and Joan Davenny, a Jewish school teacher killed in a suicide bomb incident in 1995.

The proposal to name the lake after the late Ho Feng Shan, also known as Feng-Shan Ho and Ho Fengshan, refers to the Chinese diplomat hailed as the “Chinese Schindler.”  During World II, Ho, who is primarily known by his surname according to Chinese custom, issued thousands of visas to Austrian Jews to help them flee Nazi-occupied territory. Some Asian American groups, including the San Francisco chapter of the Taiwanese American Professionals, are promoting an online campaign for Ho’s name.

Some San Francisco supervisors, including Melgar, have expressed interest in renaming the lake after Ho. Ho’s family prefers the spellings Ho Feng Shan or Feng Shan Ho.

Stow Lake Bridge in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Wednesday, July 12, 2023.
Stow Lake Bridge goes over the lake to Strawberry Hill, and one potential name for the lake is "Strawberry Lake." | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

However, the final decision-making power belongs to the city’s seven-member Recreation and Park Commission, not the supervisors. And the commission can pick names that are not on Melgar’s list, too.

Commissioner Vanita Louie said in a statement to The Standard that she supports the renaming but would not support renaming the lake after any individuals.

“Instead, a place name should tell something about the location,” Louie said. “I like the name Blue Heron Lake, but the community should vote.” 

Louie added there are many blue herons throughout Golden Gate Park and Stow Lake, and the birds “love the park as much as people do.”

The commission is expected to discuss this issue early next year.