SF's Iconic Stow Lake to Shed Namesake, Tied to Antisemite William W. Stow

SF's Iconic Stow Lake to Shed Namesake, Tied to Antisemite William W. StowSource: Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Eileen Vargas
Published on November 27, 2023

In the heart of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, a debate is unfolding over the name of Stow Lake, which is named after the less-than-admirable historical figure William W. Stow. Supervisor Myrna Melgar and an engaged public are advocating for a change in the lake's name. Stow, a 19th-century antisemitic politician, is the current namesake, and efforts are underway to give the lake a more fitting identity.

A variety of suggestions have been made for the new name, including nods to nature like Blue Heron or Turtle Lake and tributes to historical figures such as Mary Ellen Pleasant and Dr. Ho Feng Shan. Melgar, who is Jewish and represents the area, organized public hearings to collect these alternatives, per the SF Chronicle. The diverse list reflects the city's multifaceted community, akin to the varied microclimates of San Francisco.

In a twist, the final decision rests with the Recreation and Park Commission, not the supervisors. Commissioner Vanita Louie emphasizes that a place name should say something about the location. She favors Blue Heron Lake due to its feathery residents, who love the park, according to the San Francisco Standard. While the decision-making process is ongoing, there's a hint of consensus building as the community navigates the proposed name options.

The proposed names carry stories and fragments of San Francisco's soul, from wildlife references to cultural nods like Mikveh Lake and Ramaytush Ohlone Lake. An online campaign supporting the naming of the lake after Dr. Ho Feng Shan has gained traction. The city's commitment to distancing itself from less savory aspects of its past and embracing an inclusive future.