San Francisco Cemeteries


There is a saying that death and taxes are the only real absolutes within the Human Experience.* In San Francisco, though, even death isn't a sure thing, or at least one's final resting spot can't be a certainty for...ever.**

ColumbariumAt one time, there were probably more than 200,000 graves dug - some more than once - for each of the deceased residents in San Francisco before the year 1900. This was when the Board of Supervisors voted to stop all burials in The City and County of San Francisco, California. The exact number of the interred citizens within The City boundaries is hard to figure because most of the records were destroyed in the fires that resulted from the Great Earthquake of April 18, 1906.

Mission Dolores CemeteryToday, there are only two cemeteries, five columbariums, and one memorial (under the stones of a church terrace), inside The City limits. One cemetery is located at the Mission Dolores Church at 16'th and Dolores Streets. The other is The San Francisco National Cemetery/The Presidio, at the Old Presidio Army Base, which is now part of the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is legally a seperate entity from San Francisco proper, but, from the earliest days it has always been considered a real part of The City .

Presidio CemeteryThe National Cemetery is still allowing a few select and special interments, like Philip Burton, as well as many various Honorable Military Veterans and their spouses.

The first columbarium, called the San Francisco Columbarium, is located at the end of Loraine Court, off Anza Street in the Richmond District and use to be part of the Odd Fellows Cemetery. It is run by the Neptune Society today and there are a few openings still available (They are going fast...) in the historic old building. An expansion or annex for offices has been built around part of the Columbarium and future work outside will allow more niches (Condos...as Emmitt Watson - Historian Caretaker - would say.) to be created.

The second columbarium is found inside of Grace Cathedral, on top of Nob Hill on California Street between Jones and Taylor Streets. The Grace Cathedral Columbarium is located in the Chapel of Saint Francis, on the second floor or level of the bell tower. There also are three additional columbariums located at St. Mary the Virgin, All Saints, and St. Gregory's Episcopal Churches. St. Francis Lutheran Church also places cremated remains under the stones of its Memorial Terrace. *+

There use to be numerous locations throughout The City where different religious groups and organizations bought land for the interment of their dearly departed members. There were Catholic,Pacific Heights Cemetery Chinese, Jewish and Protestant Cemeteries as well as non-denominational and pauper plots covering many neighborhoods of San Francisco. Some say there were even Native American burials, like the site of the Old Spanish-Mexican Cemetery on the Main Post of the Presidio. I believe there are others as well, which we may not yet know about. There is also a charming Pet Cemetery near the Horse Stables in the Presidio today.

When the 1849 Gold Rush brought and overwhelming amount of people to San Francisco, land started to become a precious commodity. The early cemeteries, like the Yerba Buena Cemetery, which was located at the site of the old City Hall (first specifically built for that purpose) and isYerba Buena Cemetery now where the new Main Public Library has opened, were dug up and moved to various places farther west. As the population continued to grow, pressure continued to mount to remove all the "past" citizens from their "final resting spots".

For years the Richmond District cemeteries were headstone 2 smallneglected and vandalized. There was debate over what should be done. There were even four different years where Ballot Propositions and Ordinances were brought before the people (1914, 1924, 1925 and again finally in 1937) to settle the quandary over removing the cemeteries or just leaving them alone.

First there were a number of expulsions that began at the turn of the century and they continued again in the 1930's and 1940's until almost all cemeteries were eliminated within The City. Unclaimed headstones and monuments were recycled for building various seawalls, landfills and park gutters.

Basically, it is illegal to actually cremate anyone in town or bury anyone in the ground in San Francisco, California...proper. The only exception today is the San Francisco National Cemetery/The Presidio. The five Columbariums and the Memorial Terrace, of course, are for the interment of ashes only.

Many of the new cemeteries were created south of San Francisco in the town of Colma. Colma has the distinction of having more dead residents (around 5 million and counting) than living souls today. As a matter of fact, the cemeteries of Colma are considered some of the most beautiful in the World.Colma Many of the wealthy families from San Francisco's heydays (Robber Barons?) built elaborate monuments to themselves, which created a tourist destination which continues to this day.

The following is a list of the old cemetery sites around San Francisco, California.*** I have provided some information on each site and I have included some photos of some of the old sites as they appear today. I have also included some maps and articles about some of the cemeteries and related topics.

 

  This list gives the names and locations of all the cemeteries that I have found referenced as being dedicated or not dedicated, officially or unofficially known to The City authorities.

San Francisco Cemeteries - Past and Present, Known and Unknown, Official and Unofficial .
  1. Buena Vista Park (Headstone Remnants) - Here lie the remains of Pioneer tomstone remnants recycled for the paving of the Buena Vista Park's storm drains and retaining walls, installed around the 1930's. The park is bounded on the north by Haight Street and encircled by Buena Vista Avenue East and Buena Vista Avenue West. If you walk along the paths you can see marble and granite lined gutters that occasionally reveal lettering and numbers.

  2. Bush Street Cemetery - A small cemetery located between Bush, Sansome and Montgomery Streets. It looks like an alley occupies the site nowdays. This was also the location of the Mercantile Library at 216 Bush Street, before it moved to its Post Street address today. It is not known how many were buried here or when it started, but, it moved to the Yerba Buena Cemetery soon after 1850.

  3. Calvary Cemetery (Catholic) - (Lone Mountain) - Used from 1860 to 1940. Around 55,000 graves occupied the 48 acres at Geary Blvd, Turk ST, Joseph's and Masonic Avenues. Originally part of Lone Mountain Cemetery and it moved to the Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, 1500 Mission Road, Colma, CA 94015, San Mateo County. (650) 756-2060

  4. Chinese Cemetery - Right next to the Laurel Hill Cemetery at California, Geary, Jordan and Parker Streets and open in the 1860's. It could of also extended to Arguello Blvd. according to one 1884 map source. It moved to the Golden Gate Cemetery.

  5. First Street Cemetery - Located around First and Clementina Streets. This was a small, unofficial cemetery and it probably moved to the Yerba Buena Cemetery. Not sure when it started or how many were actaully buried there.

  6. Grace Cathedral Columbarium - Is to be found inside of Grace Cathedral and is located in the Chapel of Saint Francis, on the second floor of the bell tower section. Grace Cathedral was built in the 1950's and I am not sure when the Columbarium was started or how many are interred within its walls. They have openings available. The address is 1100 California Street, San Francisco, California, 94108. (415) 749-6309

  7. Gibbath Olom Cemetery (Hills of Eternity, Jewish) - Dolores, Church, 19th and 20th Streets. Opened Feb. 26,1861 - closed Dec.31,1888 with around 300 graves. Moved to Colma and kept the same name. 1301 El Camino Real, Colma, CA 94015, San Mateo County. (650) 756-3633

  8. The Golden Gate Cemetery - Clement and 33rd Ave. Started around 1868 and closed mainly in 1909. It is on the current site of the Lincoln Park Golf Course and the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Some say there are perhaps 11,000 bodies that actually "remain buried beneath the turf of Lincoln Golf Park".*** This cemetery's removal or conversion was begun in 1909.

  9. Greek Cemetery - Next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery at Stanyan Street and Golden Gate Avenue. Moved to the Golden Gate Cemetery.

  10. Green Oak Cemetery - Market, Mission, 7th and 8th Streets. It opened in 1849 or 1850 and advertised in the Daily Alta California that they had plenty of openings. Probably moved to the Golden Gate Cemetery like the Yerba Buena Cemetery. #*

  11. Hebrew Cemetery - Pacific Heights, Broadway, Vallejo, Franklin and Gough Streets. 250 lots open from 1850 to 1860. Probably moved to the Hills of Eternity or the Home of Peace cemeteries in the Mission District at the present location of Dolores Park.

  12. Laurel Hill Cemetery - (Lone Mountain) California, Geary, Parker and Presidio Avenue. Dedicated May 30, 1854 and moved in 1941. Originally part of Lone Mountain Cemetery and renamed Laurel Hill Cemetery in 1867. Approximately 35,000 bodies were moved to Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, 1370 El Camino Real, Colma, CA 94014, San Mateo County. (650) 755-0580

  13. Masonic Cemetery - (Masonic Organization)It had 30 acres at Turk, Fulton, Parker Streets and Masonic Avenue. Dedicated Jan. 26, 1864 and closed in 1931. Approximately19,900 bodies were moved to Woodlawn Memorial Park, 1000 El Camino Real, Colma, CA 94014, San Mateo County. (650) 755-1957.

  14. The Mission Dolores Church Cemetery (Catholic - Franciscan Order) - Built in 1776 and located at Dolores and 16th Streets next to the original Mission Church. There were some more graves that extended West along Chula Lane almost to Church Street and wrapped North reaching 16th Street. There were 5,515 graves here, mostly Native Americans, and many of these were "consolidated" near today's still existing "Grotto". The others were moved to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma sometime in the 1930's. ##

  15. Nevai-(Home of Peace) (Jewish) - Dolores, Church, 18th and 19th Streets. Opened July, 1860 and closed Dec. 31, 1888 with around 300 graves. It kept the same name and moved to 1299 El Camino Real, Colma, CA 94014, San Mateo County. (650) 755-4700.

  16. North Beach (Powell Street) Cemetery - One of San Francisco's earliest and most unofficial since the property owner never gave consent for any such activities on his land. It was on Powell Street around Filbert and Greenwich Streets with around 900 graves. It opened in 1846 and was moved to the Yerba Buena Cemetery and then on to the Golden Gate Cemetery in 1853.

  17. Odd Fellows Cemetery - (Lone Mountain)-Geary, Turk, Parker and Arguello Streets. Origanally part of the 1854 Lone Mountain Cemetery and re-opened Nov. 19, 1865 as the Odd Fellows Cemetery. By 1923 it was all mainly moved to Greelawn Memorial Park at 1100 El Camino Real, Colma, CA 94014, San Mateo County. (650) 755-7622.

  18. The Pet Cemetery - This is located in the Presidio on McDowell Avenue right as it goes underneath Doyle Drive and the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Pet Cemetery was started by Military families in the 1950's. It is currently under renovation.

  19. Rincon Hill Cemetery - Rincon Point (Federal Reserve) - It was perhaps around Harrison, Main and Spear Streets. The exact location is not known currently. This was probably next to the site of the first United States Marine Hospital (for Merchant Seaman) which was built in 1853.

  20. Russian Hill Cemetery - There were 30 to 40 graves reported to of been located at one of the summits of Russian Hill and was used actively from 1848 to 1853. The San Francisco Daily Evening Post on November 16th, 1878 said it was at the "eminence between Taylor and Jones streets, and north of Vallejo street". This puts it at a wonderful vista point overlooking Ina Coolbrith Park. Supposedly moved to the Yerba Buena Cemetery.

  21. The San Francisco Columbarium - Located at the end of Loraine Court, off Anza Street, in the Inner Richmond District and it originally was part of the Odd Fellows Cemetery and Lone Mountain Cemetery. It's run by the Neptune Society today. 1 Loraine Court, San Francisco, CA 94118 (415) 752-7891

  22. The San Francisco National Cemetery/The Presidio - Located at the Old Presidio Army Base (Golden Gate National Recreation Area). The first interment was July 23, 1852 and it became a National Cemetery in 1884. There were 15,369 graves counted by 1936 and today I believe there are 31,323 known graves in the cemetery. They are still allowing some select burials. GGNRA, Lincoln Blvd. and Funston Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118 . (650) 761-1646 or (650) 589-7737

    *Note: The Golden Gate National - US Goverment Cemetery is located at 1300 Sneath Lane, San Bruno, CA 94066, San Mateo County. (650) 761-1646

  23. St. Michael's (Nebraska Street) Cemetery - It was located between San Bruno (previously Nebraska Street) and Potrero Avenue, 20th and 22nd Streets. Started in 1867 and probably moved in 1932 to Holy Cross Cemetery, in Colma.

  24. Telegraph Hill Cemetery - was also called Yerba Buena, Sansome Street and the Sailor's Burial Ground and began around 1825, closing in 1857. The boundaries were Broadway, Green, Sansome and Battery Streets. During this period the waterfront was just a block or two away and this was probably one of the earliest cemeteries for non-Catholic persons. Moved to the Yerba Buena Cemetery.

  25. The United States Marine (Public Health Service) Hospital Cemetery - It is located in the Presidio of San Francisco and it can be found just north of the 15th Avenue and Lake Street entrance to the southern boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) - It was started sometime around 1875 and was decommissioned around 1932. There are perhaps 200 - 650 international merchant seaman still buried (only some were ever really removed) beneath a landfill and other various improvements. (**** and ##)
    There seems to be no intentions of removing what remains and the Presidio Trust finally finished their plans on what should be done at the site. They have landscaped the site and added walkways and a stone monument re-dedicating the cemetery.

  26. Yerba Buena Cemetery - It was located on the site of the Old City Hall (actually the City's fourth or fifth City Hall but the first built specifically for that purpose), which is also the location for the new Main Public Library, and the Old Main Library which is soon to reopen as the New Asian Art Museum. It encompassed 13 -15 acres in a triangle between Market, McAllister and Larkin Streets. It opened in 1850 and closed in 1871. There were from five to nine thousand bodies buried here and it moved to the Golden Gate Cemetery starting in 1870.

  27. Yerba Buena (Goat) Island Cemetery - It was located on the western side of Yerba Buena Island and started in 1852. The Navy graves were removed to the Presidio National Cemetery in the later 1930's. This was around the time of the Bay Bridge construction and before the opening of the 1939 World's Fair. I guess they didn't want to spook folks or dampen anyone's enthusiasm for the Golden Gate International Exposition.

 


  Only the following death records survived the fires caused by the April 18, 1906 Great Earthquake in San Francisco:  
     
 
 

Book 1 - Nov. 8, 1865 to Sept. 30, 1869
Book 2 - Oct.1, 1869 to Apr.30, 1873
Book 3 - Apr.1, 1882 to June 30, 1889
(Coroner's cases only)
Book M - Aug. 1, 1894 to June 30, 1896
Book O - July 1, 1898 to March 16, 1900
Book P - Mar. 17, 1900 to Oct. 23, 1901
Book Q - Oct. 23, 1901 to June 30, 1903
Book R - July 1, 1903 to June 30, 1904***

 
 
     
  These records use to be found in the Public Health Records at the San Francisco Department of Public Health (415-554-2700 and www.sfdph.org). They seem to of been given to the Mormon Church's Genealogy Archives, accessible for a fee or membership now, I believe. Maybe they can still be found on file with the California Office of Vital Records in Sacramento, California (916-445-2684 and www.dhs.ca.gov?).

 
San Francisco History
by Zpub.com
MAPSARTICLESSan Francisco Genealogy Cemetery Page
Search California Burials
by Interment.net
Joel Gazis-Sax's Colma PageJohn Blackett's Home PageSan Francisco Genealogy Main Page
by Pamela Storm Wolfskill and Ron Filion

This site was created by John W. Blackett in 1995.
I would like to thank Paula Levine for the initial inspiration.
I would also like to thank Steve Wilson
for introducing me to this wonderful medium.

Send any comments or additional information regarding exact locations of suspected "unknown" cemetery sites to my E-Mail address by clicking on this link. Thanks.
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Last Updated 04/16/2014.
All Rights Reserved - Copyright @ 1995 - 2014

Most of my material was found in the San Francisco History Room at the San Francisco Main Library and the Presidio Trust Library.

* Famous quote by Benjamin Franklin. Copyright @ Timeless.

++ "Chambers' Edinburg Journal", No. 479, March 5, 1853; p. 160, 'California Industry'.

Proctor, Willaim A. "Location, Regulation and Removal of Cemeteries in the City and County of San Francisco", Department of City Planning, City and County of San Francisco, 1950.

*** "San Francisco Almanac"; by Gladys Hansen, San Francisco Archivist. Copyright @ 1980.

** "Body Politics, (Why there's no such thing as eternal rest in San Francisco)"; by Gray Brechin. Copyright @ March, 1986 KCBX Focus, p.86-91

**** "Defender of the Gate, The Presidio of San Francisco, A History from 1846 to 1995"; by Edwin N. Thompson. Copyright @ 1997.

#* "San Francisco Cemeteries", by Brian Bonnr Mavrogeorge, May 1999. Presentation at the California Genealogical Society Annual Fair

"Memories and Notes of Old San Francisco Cemeteries", by Brother Ambrose, St. Benedict, OR, June 18, 2001

## "Summary of the San Francisco Marine Hospital Cemetery, Presidio of San Francisco, California", by Mary L. Maniery, June 1994.

"Ladies Seaman's Friend Society Annual Report for 1854", San Francisco History Room, San Francisco Main Library.

"Creating a Park for the 21st Century", Final General Management Plan Amendment for the Presidio of San Francisco GGNRA, July 1994.

"Presidio Trust Management Plan, Land Use Policies for Area B of the Presidio of San Francisco", May 2002.

*+ Paul K. Sholar, December 2011.