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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 41: Cemeteries of the Inner Richmond

Talking about the Richmond District's Big Four cemeteries around Lone Mountain, the resting place for San Francisco's dead from the 1850s until their removal in the 1930s.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Oct 19, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 41: Cemeteries of the Inner Richmond Outside Lands Podcast Episode 41: Cemeteries of the Inner Richmond

(above) Odd Fellows Cemetery, circa 1885

Elevated view southeast over Odd Fellows Cemetery to Lone Mountain with cross atop. Photograph taken from the cemetery's office or main water tower and dates to between 1879 and 1891. [B 1862 Lone Mountain, San Francisco] (ANSR)
Isaiah West Taber


Podcast Transcription

WNP41 - Cemeteries of the Inner Richmond

Woody: [00:00:00] It’s Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. [spooky Boris Karloff style voice] I'm doing the Monster Mash podcast. I’m Woody LaBounty.

David: And I’m David Gallagher, heh, heh, heh. [different spooky voice]

Woody: David.

David: I always like to laugh like that because that's the laugh that Miranda made when she was like four, when she was a witch for Halloween.

Woody: My daughter, when she was a witch, she went, “Heh, heh, heh.”

David: Heh, heh, heh.

Woody: Yeah, it's October, which is close to my daughter's favorite holiday, more than her birthday even, I think: Halloween!

David: Ooh!

Woody: So, we have a special Halloween themed podcast, David?

David: That we do, Woody!

Woody: We do?

David: That we do!

Woody: That we do!

David: It's a pirate themed podcast. Aye!

Woody: [00:01:00] What are you going to be for Halloween, David?

David: I am going to be…

Woody: Misinformed?

David: That's what I am all the time.

Woody: You're going to wear a little outfit and a little tiara as “Miss Informed.”

David: That's correct. No, I don't have a costume this year. I got tired of getting dressed up for Halloween. I'm a fuddy duddy.

Woody: You could be that for Halloween, a fuddy duddy. I don't know, well, yeah.

David: We don't have any candy!

Woody: That's kind of a grouch or something. So, our Halloween themed podcast, I guess is, I guess it's spooky. We're going to talk about the cemeteries that used to be in the Richmond District in San Francisco.

David: Yeah, there were a lot of them, and a lot of people were buried in them.

Woody: Many and some very famous, sort of, pioneers of San Francisco.

David: And now a lot of people live where a lot of people were buried.

Woody: And I, I bet most of [00:02:00] those people do not know that their domiciles are on top of cemetery ground.

David: They've never dug around in their backyard, I guess.

Woody: We think most of the bodies were moved.

David: [spooky cackle]

Woody: Yes, let's go back to the beginning. But first I should tell you, David, you know, we did a talk last night. I did a talk with Mary Brown from the Planning Department on Henry Doelger and Sunset architecture. And a couple of people came up to me from the crowd and said how much they enjoyed the podcast.

David: Really!?

Woody: Yeah. So, our podcast is getting a little more popular.

David: Were they the same people who have told you they enjoyed it before?

Woody: No! They were actually two strangers to me, who I've never met, and they came up and mentioned how much they liked it, so.

David: We are really getting through to people, I guess.

Woody: Yeah. We're starting to really kind of pull this whole thing together. So today, let's not blow it. The cemeteries of the Richmond District. So, I actually, had [00:03:00] relatives buried in some of these cemeteries, by the way.

David: Oh really?

Woody: Yeah. So, we can talk about that. But what was the first one? I think it probably was Laurel Hill which…

David: At that time, it was called “Lone Mountain.”

Woody: Right. It started as Lone Mountain Cemetery and that was, when it was installed, created, in 1854, the Richmond District was pretty much out of town.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Which is where you'd want to put a cemetery, right?

David: This was beyond the Western Addition. It was the, it was on the outskirts of town, yeah.

Woody: The Western Addition hadn't even been added to the city yet. So, there was no Addition.

David: It was not even there.

Woody: Yeah. So, the idea was that you crossed all these sand dunes and there really wasn't a road at the time, I don't think, I think it was more of a path. And you got all the way up to where, where are we talking about?

David: Well, we're talking about a big, big stretch of land kind of at, between California and Geary?

Woody: Yeah, roughly. Roughly, Geary.

David: And right, [00:04:00] what is now Presidio Avenue on the east, and then, I'm not sure, kind of down into Jordan Park, it kind of jigged around because there weren't any streets laid out up there, so.

Woody: Right. Yeah, it goes probably about five or six blocks from the top of the hill there where Masonic Avenue and Presidio are.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Kind of down to about Blake, Collins, somewhere down there. And it kind of…

David: Right, just the edge of that.

Woody: Of that Jordan Park neighborhood.

David: Jordan Park, yeah.

Woody: Yeah. And, again, at the time it's like a big sandy hill off in the distance, right? And they called it “Lone Mountain,” even though the cemetery…

David: Was not on Lone Mountain.

Woody: Right. Lone Mountain is where, is over where USF is, kind of across the way. But it was in view of Lone Mountain and Lone Mountain was the biggest sort of promontory you could see from San Francisco proper at the time. So, they called it “Lone Mountain Cemetery,” even though it was a little off, it was a little to the north of Lone Mountain. [00:05:00]

David: Right. So it was, and that was back in, that was…

Woody: 1854.

David: 1853-4, yeah.

Woody: Yeah, that's when they did it. And it was a hundred, it was supposed to be 320 acres at first, which was pretty darn big. They eventually scaled it down and I think it was about 160 when they were done, when they dedicated the whole place.

David: Right. And then they changed the name.

Woody: They did change the name.

David: To avoid that confusion, around 1867, so about ten or fifteen years later.

Woody: Yeah, I think they had some financial issues with the ownership of it and they re-formed a new organization to run it. And so, as part of that, they changed the name to Laurel Hill.

David: Right.

Woody: It was the Laurel Hill Association. And that was what it was known as until it ended. So, a good eighty years after.

David: So, it even predated, like, Golden Gate Park or anything like that. It was…

Woody: Absolutely.

David: It was an old time Victorian cemetery.

Woody: Right.

David: With curvy roads [00:06:00] and landscaped lawns and trees and stuff.

Woody: Yeah. Back then, a cemetery, this was really before people had public parks mostly, cemeteries were used, sort of, in the way of public parks.

David: They would go out there on a Sunday and…

Woody: Picnic.

David: Pay their respects and picnic.

Woody: That's right. They would go put some flowers on their relative’s grave. But it was like an outing. It was like a little day. So, they created cemeteries much like parks back then. And I remember, well, when I did research on Lone Mountain and Laurel Hill Cemetery, that the Annals of San Francisco, which was sort of like a book about San Francisco in the 1850s, talked about there being, “many beautiful spots, delightful dells, evergreen oaks, valleys, flowers, shrubs, lilacs, hidden springs.” I don't know if there were actually hidden springs.

David: Kind of a nice place to spend eternity.

Woody: Yeah! I mean, it was the whole idea, was that it…

David: Or your Sunday afternoon.

Woody: Or [00:07:00] your Sunday afternoon, that's right. So, who was buried in this, sort of, pioneer cemetery? And the reason, we should say, why did they build this cemetery? San Francisco was growing, it outgrew the cemeteries it had.

David: Right. There was a cemetery right at where Civic Center is. Kind of right on Market Street.

Woody: Yep.

David: There was one there.

Woody: Yeah. And I don't think that was a very good cemetery. I think they didn't do a real good job with that from the start. And so, they wanted a nice, big, beautiful cemetery to match the ones that they had in the East Coast.

David: Right.

Woody: And that's where Lone Mountain came from. But we had U.S. Senators buried there,

David: Broderick!

Woody: David Broderick, yeah. Who was killed in that duel, which I don't think we've ever done a podcast on.

David: No.

Woody: We'll do that next time.

David: We've done video and other things, but…

Woody: And a lot of these, sort of, men and women who first came to make San Francisco the big boom town city it ended up being, were buried there. And: my great-great-grandmother was buried there.

David: No! [00:08:00]

Woody: Yes. So.

David: Wow.

Woody: But she's not there anymore.

David: Why? I don't want to get into why not. So…

Woody: She got moved like everybody else, but we'll get there, yeah.

David: So, so we have Lone Mountain, Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Woody: Same place, different name, right.

David: Yeah. And then it was so successful, that a bunch of other cemeteries got built up there on that ridge too, right down, down to the south of it, actually bordering the actual Lone Mountain.

Woody:  Right. The Odd Fellows Cemetery, that was a fraternal organization, and a lot of fraternal organizations, the reason they existed was to provide burial insurance and you know…

David: The Odd Fellows still exist. You know, you see all those old Odd Fellows buildings and there's still Odd Fellows around.

Woody: Yeah, if it says “IOOF, International Order of Odd Fellows” on a building.

David: Right.

Woody: It was an Odd Fellows Hall.

David: Or it has the three rings with that FLT. I don't remember what FLT [00:09:00] stands for.

Woody: Somebody could probably tell us.

David: I could look it up, but…

Woody: Well, they built, so the Odd Fellows Cemetery, I believe, was later. It was like closer to the turn of the century, I believe. It was a later cemetery.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And that was where the old Coronet Theatre was. I think the Western border was Arguello Boulevard.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And then it went over to Stanyan, roughly, where Stanyan is today. I think that was put in later, the Stanyan Street.

David: It didn't go up the hill?

Woody: And up the hill, that was like the east side, I think.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And then it did go up the hill towards USF, all the way to where Anza is, oh actually, over on to Rossi Playground.

David: Yeah.

Woody: That was all part of it. So, it probably went all the way over to like Cabrillo, Balboa, something like that, that's it. And the Odd Fellows, I think they rented out part of their cemetery to smaller organizations and affiliates and ethnic groups used part of the back of the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

David: And the Columbarium was part of it.

Woody: Which is still there.

David: That's the last, that's the last remaining [00:10:00] piece that we can see.

Woody: Right.

David: That's above ground. And there was another one, the Masonic Cemetery.

Woody: Right, another fraternal organization. The Masons.

David: I think there's still some Masons around.

Woody: Yes. Don't you know the secret handshake?

David: Hell yes, I'm a turtle! No, that's a different one.

Woody: And Masonic Cemetery was over on?

David: What?

Woody: Masonic.

David: Oh yeah. It was on Masonic, yeah.

Woody: That's where Masonic Avenue, or whatever, gets its name, is Masonic Cemetery, that was right there. And that was south of Turk.

David: Pretty much right where USF is today, the USF campus.

Woody: Right.

David: I think that the, that Saint Ignatius Church was already there or was going, owned their little corner.

Woody: Right.

David: But…

Woody: The two twin towers, big Catholic church.

David: The Church, but the cemetery was all around there. We've seen pictures of the cemetery right up to the back of the Church, pretty much. So, where the [00:11:00] college kids are sitting around on the grass, on the lawn out there.

Woody: Yeah. Their ancestors are buried beneath them.

David: Yeah. Oooh! [spooky howl]

Woody: I think they actually, they actually did find, they did some renovation work not too long ago and they found like a skull. And I have heard of people, at USF, I have heard of people in their backyards finding little bits of headstone and that sort of thing.

David: Well, they did some work at Raoul Wallenberg High School, which is right on Masonic, right where we're talking, on the east side. And they did some renovation and were digging down and they found a headstone.

Woody: Oh, okay.

David: And the, I guess, the principal had it displayed in front of the school.

Woody: Nice.

David: I think he, I think people had mixed feelings about it.

Woody: Yeah!

David: And they, they took it down pretty quick.

Woody: Calvary, which was the Catholic cemetery.

David: Right.

Woody: And where was that? That was on…

David: That was on the east side of Masonic and north of Turk to Geary Street. All the way to Geary, kind of on that hill. It's kind of funny, [00:12:00] you drive down Turk today and there's a hill right there, and you see these unusable backyards of houses, or maybe they're apartments, up in the Anza Vista neighborhood.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And there's not much remnant of it, although it's clearly a single development that happened on this one space.

Woody: Right. Land of the dead! Well, what happened to the land of the dead? I mean, we had these giant cemeteries, we have tens of thousands of San Franciscans, including my ancestors, buried there. What happened to all these cemeteries, David?

David: Well, progress Woody, that's what happened.

Woody: You mean quote “progress?”

David: No, I mean, literally, the city progressed.

Woody: Westward.

David: Over those hills.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And built houses there. And the people, the bodies, the remains…

Woody: Yeah.

David: Were, I think, each, as each cemetery closed, they tried to find the people who were relatives or [00:13:00] descendants of the dead.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And when possible, they, you know, those people reinterred their ancestors somewhere else, in Colma usually.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And when they couldn't find people, because some of them had been, I mean, certainly the Odd Fellow Cemetery, they're, you know, there just weren't, they couldn't find people to claim the bodies.

Woody: Yeah.

David: They put them into mass graves in Colma. So, the Odd Fellows…

Woody: They had some financial problems too, I think, because they, people paid money to be in the Odd Fellow Cemetery and I think they mismanaged the Cemetery move to Colma. Or down to Greenlawn, I think it was, down there, Cemetery.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And I think they basically ran out of money to do a good job of reinterring people and they ended up having a giant mass grave down there later.

David: Right. And so that's what I was going to say. There is a, the, so the Odd Fellows Cemetery, all the [00:14:00] bodies were moved to Greenlawn Cemetery in Colma. Which was, at that time, an Odd Fellows Cemetery. But now you go, and they still have this old neon sign for Greenlawn, but where it says Odd Fellows, the Odd Fellows is covered over and it says something like, “a secular cemetery.”

Woody: Right.

David: Or something like that.

Woody: Right.

David: And to find that, and there is a big monument, but it's way in the back. In a place that doesn't, certainly doesn't, seem endowed for any gardeners.

Woody: Right.

David: And it's kind of hard to find, it's out in the middle of a field. And that mass grave, this is the crazy part to me.

Woody: Yeah.

David: That mass grave is being encroached on by the big box stores of Colma.

Woody: Yeah, yeah, it’s between…

David: So right up, right up the hill there’s the…

Woody: A Best Buy and a Home Depot.

David: Yeah.

Woody: It's stuck between a Best Buy and a Home Depot. Colma, of course, is, you know, the city, [00:15:00] after it outgrew its cemeteries downtown and then it outgrew these cemeteries, in a sense: progress, most San Franciscans are buried down in cemeteries that were created in this city called “Lawndale,” originally, and now it's called “Colma.” It's like a city dedicated just to the cemeteries pretty much. And my great-great-grandmother, by the way, was moved. Her son had her moved, and she is buried down in Colma in Cypress Lawn Cemetery. So she, yeah.

David: So, when did they stop burying people in San Francisco?

Woody: Yeah.

David: I know that there are no public cemeteries that can take interments.

Woody: In 1902, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance saying you couldn't bury people in San Francisco city limits anymore.

David: And that, but that doesn't apply to, like, the military cemetery?

Woody: Right, the Presidio was different.

David: The Presidio could do whatever it wanted.

Woody: It was like federal land or whatever.  And then, so, when you don't have new people being buried, and new endowments, these cemeteries fell into a lot of [00:16:00] disrepair. They basically didn't have the funds, they didn't have this perpetual care model going at the time. And so, they became kind of disheveled, kind of scary places, like, that people didn't want to be around. Much less picnic at, like they did in the 1850s. So, there was a big push. “The cemeteries must go.” We must get them out of here. We got to, you know, get rid of them. The one that was the biggest problem, because the Catholic Church moved Calvary pretty orderly, Masonic Cemetery got moved. Odd Fellows, I told you they had those financial problems, but they got cleared for Rossi playground and other things. But Laurel Hill was the first one and that had a lot of the pioneers in it and a lot of the sort of famous people. And there was a lot of resistance to getting rid of Laurel Hill.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And it took a long time. It took a couple of votes, I believe, by the city and in, it wasn't until the dawn of World War II that they really started.

David: The late ‘30s, really.

Woody: Yeah, ‘39-’40, they moved the bodies and there were 35,000 [00:17:00] bodies moved then. And they wanted to have a little park at one point up there of maybe just the, sort of, pioneer section and that didn't pass either. And now it got replaced by the Fireman's Fund building, which is now part of UCSF and that whole neighborhood up there of houses in the ‘50s and ‘40s.

David: Right.

Woody: And did they move all the bodies? Or did they just move the headstones, David?

David: I think they did the best they could. They didn't have high tech ground imaging devices.

Woody: Yeah. Yeah, I think…

David: Don't dig too deep.

Woody: Yeah. It was the depression too, so, they had a lot of manpower, a lot of people looking for work, to help out. So, I think they did a relatively thorough job. They had a lot of people, but…

David: So, what did we say? We said that the Columbarium is the last remaining remnant. The remaining remnant.

Woody: Yeah. That, that Grecian-domed-looking building that kind of sticks up behind [00:18:00] where, between Arguello and Stanyan on Geary, if you see it there on the south side.

David: Yeah, that's one thing. And…

Woody: Yeah, and you can still be interred in there. You get cremated.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, you can still have your remains in San Francisco in that way.

David: Yeah. And, but one thing that we've seen, throughout the years, are old headstones that came from Laurel Hill.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And various statuary and things that pop up from time to time.

Woody: Yeah. They, when they broke up…

David: Literally!

Woody: Yes. When they broke it up, the city used them for sea wall repair and for landfill down in the Marina and it was just used for civic projects, a lot of these giant stones that weren't claimed or dealt with in any way.

David: Right.

Woody: I mean, you might have your great-grandmother moved, but you don't care about the giant tombstone. You're not going to drag that down to Colma.

David: No, a giant piece of granite.

Woody: Yeah, yeah.

David: Just wasn't claimed.

Woody: So those are all over the city. David, you did a whole video about that. Where can we [00:19:00] see some of these tombstones and monuments?

David: Well, you can see them, like you said, at the, in the Marina, at the wave organ. You can see them in Buena Vista Park where they used…

Woody: Oh yeah, in the rain gutters.

David: They used the rain gutters to, lined with marble. 

Woody: That's kind of creepy. I’ve…

David: They're mostly turned upside down, but there's a few that are turned right side up.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And in the ‘40s there was a big storm out, there was a big storm that was threatening the Great Highway around Taraval.

Woody: Yeah. They're always losing sand out there.

David: Yeah. Well, was it near Taraval? It was more like…

Woody: A little north of that.

David: Pacheco or something.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And because of the war, they didn't have the normal construction materials to stave off, to build a sea wall out of steel or whatever.

Woody: Yeah.

David: So, they collected a whole bunch of unclaimed headstones from Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Woody: And they dumped them there.

David: And they just dumped them.

Woody: But you don't see them that often, it's only…

David: They're buried.

Woody: Yeah. It's only certain [00:20:00] wave motion times where the sand gets pulled away and you can see some of those gravestones out there.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Like, I think, last year there was a big storm where that kind happened.

David: Yeah, last year or a year ago.

Woody: But that's the story of the cemeteries and it's kind of strange, kind of sad. You think you're going to be in your final resting place and then you get dragged down to the, to Colma.

David: Heh, heh, heh.

Woody: Wooooooh! [both making spooky sounds]

David: Is that wrong? To…

Woody: To mock?

David: To laugh my witch laugh?

Woody: I don't think it's any more wrong than the Richmond District boosters who wanted all the graves moved. I think, I think, I think it's wrong. They shouldn't have moved the cemeteries for housing, personally. But I understand that they were beat up and they were not good-looking places at the time. And maybe there was no financial alternative. But I want to be buried, if I'm buried, I want to stay there. Don't just be shuttling me around, I don't like that.

David: Okay.

Woody: Okay?

David: Alright. I won’t…

Woody: Can you tell my wife about that?

David: Wait!

Woody: No shuttling.

David: What about the trunk of my car? You can just be with [00:21:00] me all the time.

Woody: You might get a new car, I don’t know.

David: No, we have to move that box.

Woody: I told Nancy, my wife, I said I want to be cremated and put in the Columbarium, then I could be in San Francisco, in the Richmond District even. So that's my plan. Make a note, audience. Make sure my wishes are followed up through.

David: Because this podcast no doubt will…

Woody: Wooooooh! This is a legal document!

David: Will last longer than you.

Woody: Wooooooh! All right, I'll see you next week.

David: Heh, heh, heh.

Woody: Go to the website, become a member at outsidelands.org and read more about cemeteries.

David: Yes.

Woody: Yes. Become a member and that’s it. Wooooooh!

David: Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh.

Woody: We're getting terrible at this.

Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org. [00:22:00]

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