San Francisco History

City Planner Report

Department of City Planning
City and County of San Francisco

No Cemeteries, Burials, or Cremations in San Francisco

Since San Francisco's earliest days, the location, regulation and removal of cemeteries has been an important problem, one which has caused much public discussion, controversy, litigation, and even a vigorous referendum election campaign.

At present, no cemeteries are located within the limits of the City and County of San Francisco, with the exception of a small churchyard cemetery in the grounds of Mission Dolores, where the remains of early Franciscan Fathers, Spanish ranchers, and Yerba Buena pioneers repose. A military cemetery also exists in the Presidio, an Army reservation. Since 1922, the four other cemeteries then in existence have been removed, two in 1923 - 1925, and two in 1939 - 41. The vacated cemetery areas have been developed for residential use and for a university. Burials and cremations within the limits of the City and County are prohibited in the Health Code.

Most burials and cremations of San Franciscans now are conducted in the adjoining "cemetery town" of Colma, formerly called the Town of Lawndale, and located in San Mateo County immediately to the south of San Francisco. Colma was founded and incorporated by cemetery associations' representatives (the cemeteries owning three-fourths of the land within the town's limits) expressly to maintain the town as a "memorial city". Most of its 264 inhabitants (1950 Census -- there were 354 in 1940) live on cemetery property, and its government is financed through business license taxes and burial permit charges. There is
no municipal property tax.

Early San Francisco Cemeteries

ln 1850, a cemetery known as Yerba Buena Cemetery existed on the present-day site of the Civic Center. This fifteen-acre tract was then in the middle of a sand-dune area, and cemetery maintenance was difficult because coffins were often exposed as the sand was blown away. In 1860, Yerba Buena Cemetery was abandoned, its bodies removed, and the tract acquired by the City and County as a public park. The area was never landscaped or developed, however, and much of it was sold off for commercial frontage on Market Street. The remainder provided the site of the pre-earthquake City Hall, which was destroyed in the 1906 disaster. A new city hall was started in 1912 with a $12,000,000 Civic Center bond issue, on an adjacent site, and at present the old cemetery boundaries would include commercial buildings on Market Street, the Federal Office Building, the City Public Library, Marshall Square Monument, and a block being reserved for future construction of a Courts Building.

After the demise of' Yerba Buena Cemetery, four main cemeteries (known as the "Big Four") developed in the Richmond residential district, west of Van Ness Avenue, and northeast of Golden Gate Park. These were Odd Fellows Cemetery and Masonic Cemetery (originally fraternal organizations, but their successors are non-profit associations), Laurel Hill Cemetery (a non-profit association), and Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery administered as part of the property of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Early Efforts to Remove the Cemeteries

As early as 1880, the cry, "Remove the Cemeteries," began to he heard in San Francisco, spearheaded by owners of residential property (often right across the street from cemeteries, or with backyards abutting them), and those who thought the cemeteries' presence discouraged settlement of nearby subdivisions. Many of the cemetery lots were sold with no perpetual-care arrangements, and graves, markers, picket-fences, monuments and cemetery grounds deteriorated, became weed-filled and, despite efforts to establish adequate police and watchman guard, became havens for pranksters, juvenile delinquents, and ghouls. Some were anxious to subdivide and develop the 160 or so acres of land involved.

By 1900, most of the existing graveyards in San Francisco were nearly filled up, and rather than dedicate further cemetery land within the City and County, the Board of Supervisors decided in 1902 (Ordinance Number 8108) to prohibit burials within the city, and to forbid the sale of cemetery lots in Odd Fellows, Masonic, Laurel Hill, and Calvary cemeteries. Cremation and burial of cremation remains, however, were permitted,

Much data concerning this ordinance was lost in the earthquake and fire of 1906. At present, however, the Health Code (Chapter Five of the San Francisco Municipal Code) contains the following provisions:

"Sec. 195. Cremation of Human Remains in City and County Limits Prohibited. It shall be unlawful for any person, association or corporation, to cremate, or cause to be cremated, the dead body of any human being within the City and County of San Francisco, exclusive of those portions of said city and county belonging to or under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States.

"Sec. 200. Burials Within City and County Limits Prohibited. It shall be unlawful for any person, association or corporation to bury or inter, or cause to be interred or buried, the dead body of any person in any cemetery, graveyard, or other place within the City and County of San Francisco, exclusive of those portions thereof which belong to the United States, or are within its exclusive jurisdiction.

"Sec. 201. Penalty. Any person, association or corporation violating any of the provisions of Section 200 of this Article shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not less than One Hundred ($100.00) Dollars, nor more than Five Hundred ($500) Dollars, or by imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months, or by both such fine and imprisonment."

Cemeteries' Deterioration After Burials were Prohibited.

The cemeteries had obtained some revenue from burial charges and sale of lots, which enabled them to give some general grounds care (weeding, watering), but with the lot-sale prohibition, only the perpetual-care lots could be maintained. The "Big Four" established alternate cemetery properties in Colma (Lawndale). The Archdiocese established Holy Cross Cemetery; Greenlawn Cemetery was established by the Odd Fellows group; and Masonic was succeeded by Woodlawn Cemetery; but the Laurel Hill association did not establish a new Colma cemetery, A new Colma organization, Cypress Lawn Cemetery, a non-profit association, succeeded to most of the family plots formerly held by Laurel Hill.

Thus the Richmond District cemeteries continued to deteriorate, which encouraged further vandalism, grave-robbing, malicious mischief and delinquency,.

An article in the San Francisco NEWS summarizing the "cemeteries problem" at the time Calvary Cemetery was being moved from San Francisco, stated (Tuesday, June 20, 1939):

"Here, during the cemetery's (Calvary) abandoned years -- the last burials were made in the early 1900's -- ghouls held vandalish orgies.

"On moonless, foggy nights, shadowy forms have slunk into vaults. Clanking sounds, the muffled crash of a sledge-hammer, have echoed forth as vandals looted the vaults of bronze flower urns, of silver coffin handles.

"Tramps piled up their pots and pans, set up their cooking utensils for a macabre type of housekeeping, even. Some say these dank vaults were hideouts for bootleggers, during the prohibition years.

"A police guard was posted several years ago, after ghouls, apparently with a knowledge of early San Francisco history, had desecrated the musty vaults of the Donahues. This was the same Peter Donahue who rose from blacksmith -- he wore a leather apron and banged away on his anvil under a buckeye tree at Market and Montgomery Streets -- to be the founder of the Union Iron Works and the Northwestern Pacific Railway . . . ."

"Other ghouls have wreaked havoc. Bronze and iron grilled doors of other ornate marble and granite above-ground vaults have been pried open. Inside all is shambles. Flower urns have been ripped from wall braces, coffins hacked open, bones strewn about . . . ."

An official of Cypress Lawn Cemetery, who had participated in the Laurel Hill Cemetery removal project, in an informal interview with the writer stated that the cemeteries were well known as lovers' lanes. In the Richmond District, high school groups sometimes held "bonfire rallies" in the old cemeteries prior to athletic contests, using fence-stakes from grave borders for fuel, and high school fraternity initiations sometimes were held in the cemeteries. Richmond residents were afraid of the cemeteries as places where possible rapists, child-molesters, and other unsavory characters could hide out.

The lack of care caused natural deterioration. As stated in the aforementioned San Francisco NEWS article:

"In the years that followed, time, weather and vandals assumed control. Weeds choked the gravel paths, over-ran the graves. Tombstones fell. Monuments, such as brooding angels, became bedraggled -- wings, arms, and legs fell off."

As early as 1913, strong agitation developed among Richmond District residents to have the cemeteries removed as menaces to health, eyesores, and obstacles to community progress. But the cemetery associations were generally opposed to wholesale evacuations, and the Catholic Archdiocese was strongly opposed to disturbing the pioneers' repose. It was felt that faith in the sanctity of consecrated ground would be reduced by any wholesale body-moving. Non-Catholic groups felt that the cemeteries had historical significance, and should not be wiped out. Various San Francisco pioneers, such as Senator Broderick (of duelling fame), Hallidie, the inventor of the cable car, the Crockers, and many others, were buried in the old Cemeteries.

First Cemetery Removals in 1923

In 1921, State legislation was passed in California enabling cemetery associations to abandon a cemetery (if the proposal was ratified by a majority of the lot owners) remove the remains, and dispose of the land ("'Morris Act"). Masonic Cemetery started to take action to abandon its cemetery and remove the remains under the provisions of this act,. Lot-owners not in accord with majority vote instituted legal proceedings, and the movement was soon tied up by court litigation. In the case of Hornblower v. Masonic Cemetery Assn., (191 Cal. 83, 214 Pac. 978 (1923), the courts held that the right of individual lot-owners to maintain remains in dedicated cemetery land was not abolished by a decision of a cemetery association to abandon and remove. The courts enjoined the association from further removal where such action was not desired by cemetery lot-owners.

In 1923, deficiencies in the Morris Act pointed up by the court decisions were corrected in the "Second Morris Act" (Statutes of California 1923, Chap. 312). Here, the State was authorized to delegate to legislative bodies of municipalities the power to pass ordinances requiring the removal of bodies under the "police power" in cemeteries where burials had been prohibited by law for a certain number of years. Shortly after the passage of the Second Morris Act, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance requiring the removal of bodies from Masonic and Odd Fellows cemeteries, but no mention was made in the ordinance of Laurel Hill or Calvary cemeteries.

Again, proceedings were tied up in litigation. Complainants charged that the ordinance was discriminatory in abating only two of San Francisco's four cemeteries. Finally appealed to a higher Federal court, the litigation resulted in a precedent that municipalities could abate nuisances one at a time if they so desired and if the degree of "nuisance value" required more immediate action in one case than in another. (Gamage et al. v. Masonic Cemetery Assn., et al. 31 Fed. (2d) 308 (D.C., N.D. Cal. 1929) and Masonic Cemetery Assn. et al. v. Gamage et al. 38 Fed. (2d) 950, 71 A.L.R. 1027, Anno. 1040 (C.C.A. 9th l930).

"The court held that merely because the board did not act affirmatively in declaring all cemeteries to be nuisances, there is no reason why the legislation should be declared invalid. The removal of any one of the cemeteries would greatly relieve the situation. It would be different if the board had permitted interments in one and not in another. Being public nuisances, the cemeteries may be abated one at a time. The board may proceed cautiously, step by step. The court further held that all zoning ordinances are discriminatory in the sense that some property holders are permitted to do and others prohibited from doing the same things in localities which are not dissimilar in actual fact, but that such laws are valid. The court said (at p. 954) that it has been generally, if not universally, held that cemeteries are subject to the police power of the state. Laws which do not directly appropriate private property, even though they in effect destroy private rights, are not, inhibited by the United States Constitution." Annotation on Chapter Four of the California Health Code contained in California Law Governing Funeral Directors, Cemeteries, and Coroners. Compiled by Raymond Louis Brennan. Published by the Interment Association of California, Los Angeles.

With the settlement of the complex legal tangle, Odd Fellows and Masonic cemeteries were removed in the early 1920's. In Odd Fellows Cemetery, a small section (less than five acres) was retained as a memorial park containing a mausoleum in which vaults were established for the retention of remains of many of the bodies contained in the cemetery. Some of the former cemetery was established as a commercial zone, but most of the cemetery lands were subdivided and sold for homesites, the subdivision being known as "Franciscan Heights."

When Masonic Cemetery was removed, it was purchased by the University of San Francisco (formerly St. Ignatius College) and used for an expansion of the campus of that Catholic institution of higher learning.

Controversy over Removal of Laurel Hill and Calvary Cemeteries.

Although opposition to cemetery removals in the Odd Fellows and Masonic projects stemmed mainly from individual plot-owners, a much stronger opposition existed in the case of Calvary and Laurel Hill Cemeteries. As stated above, the Catholic Archdiocese opposed in principle the idea of picking up a cemetery and moving it, to the distress of survivors of those buried there, and to the apprehension of future plot-owners in other cemeteries to the effect that "nothing is sacred or permanent -- not even the place where you are laid to rest."

In Laurel Hill, the opposition was centered to a large extent on the idea of disturbing famous San Francisco pioneers buried there. Discussion at first centered around establishing streets through the cemetery to "break the bottleneck" and provide access from the downtown area to the Richmond District. The cemetery's location made dead-end streets of several important streets leading to the main business district and extensions through the cemetery would have made it more accessible to the Richmond District. Little came of this when the City Attorney found that consent of all plot-owners involved would be necessary to remove graves to provide right-of-way for the street through the cemetery (right of eminent domain not applying to cemeteries in the usual fashion).

In the late 1930' s discussion centered around the idea of leaving all bodies in the cemetery and having the city take it over as a public park, removing all monuments except a few of the most famous pioneers' and letting it serve as a recreational open space. although the City Planning Commission was receptive to this idea, other city officials were cold, and most San Francisco officials apparently preferred to promote the removal of most of the cemetery and open its land up for residential subdivision. No strong support from cemetery plot-owners could be rallied to this plan, either.

The next plan proposed was the preservation of a five-acre Pioneers' Memorial Park, in one corner of the existing cemetery, in which most of the famous pioneers were buried. A mausoleum and Pioneers Memorial Museum would be constructed on this land, with bodies taken from the remainder of the cemetery area to be placed in crypts or vaults in the mausoleum. The five-acre park was to be given to the city, and administered and maintained by it.

In 1937, the Catholic Archdiocese ceased its opposition to disturbing Calvary Cemetery, and in that year the City and County Board of Supervisors passed ordinances ratified by the electorate at the November general election, requiring the removal of Laurel Hill Cemetery and Calvary Cemetery, as authorized under the Second Morris Act of 1923. Under the ordinances, cemetery associations can reserve ten percent of the area of the original cemetery for a memorial park in which monuments of historical interest, graves of important persons, and a mausoleum or columbarium containing remains removed from the balance of the cemetery can be placed. This allows about five acres for each cemetery. In the November election the ordinances were approved by a majority of the voters and the removal of Laurel Hill and Calvary Cemeteries was thus required to be started within three years.

In 1939 and 1940, considerable momentum gathered behind the idea of preserving one-tenth of Laurel Hill Cemetery as a Memorial Pioneers Park, as allowed by the removal ordinances. This was spearheaded by the historical Monuments Committee of the National Recreation Association, and backed by the California Pioneers Society and the Native Sons of the Golden West. A five and a half acre tract was outlined, which would not interfere with projected new streets to be put through the property after body removals had taken place, and this area would contain existing graves, vaults, and monuments of the following (among other) famous pioneers:

Colonel E.D. Baker (Civil War hero)
Commodore James Watkins (an early Naval hero)
Senator David Broderick (of duelling fame)
Senators William M. Stewart, John P. Jones, and James J. Fahr
T. O. Larkin, first U. S. Consul at Monterey in Mexican days
Andrew Hallidie, inventor of the cable car
James F. Calhoun, son of John C. Calhoun
George T. Marye, an early ambassador to Russia
Lorin Pickering of the family which founded the San Francisco CALL
Robert P. Woodward, owner of "Woodward' s Gardens" an early picnic resort famous in San Francisco lore

The Board of Trustees of the Laurel Hill Association, however, (after a letter poll of as many plot owners as could be contacted) in August of 1940 decided not to try to retain any of the existing cemetery for a memorial park to be maintained by it. Instead, it decided to send all disinterred bodies to a receiving vault at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, San Mateo County, and then construct vaults for the Laurel Hill bodies, and construct a Pioneers Memorial Building at Colma which would embody the ideas originally proposed for Pioneers Memorial on the original cemetery site.

Operation of the Cemetery Removal Projects -- Laurel Hill and Calvary

The entire removal program for Calvary and Laurel Hill involved over 90,000 bodies mostly buried between 1860 and 1900. Calvary Cemetery removal was handled directly by the Archdiocese of San Francisco, with lay personnel employed by Holy Cross Cemetery doing the actual work of disinterring at Calvary, transporting the bodies by hearse to Colma and reinterring at Holy Cross. All bodies disinterred at Calvary on any particular day were reinterred on the same day at Holy Cross.

Extensive record-searches had been undertaken in the Office of the Archbishop by lay workers working under clerical direction, to ascertain addresses of relatives, survivors, lot-owners, and others having an interest in the interred remains. This record-searching took years to complete. Individuals desiring to have remains disinterred privately were given an opportunity to have them separately removed to lots or vaults in Holy Cross or other cemeteries, only the expense of the cemetery lot being borne by the relatives. Extensive records are now maintained at Holy Cross and cross-indexed so that the location of any remains transferred from Calvary can be readily located. Calvary remains were placed in a large five- acre burial mound in one of the choice locations of the Cemetery, but no individual markers were erected.

Disinterring was done carefully, by hand labor, at Calvary and remains placed in redwood boxes of varying sizes, depending on whether they consisted of "dust", skeletons, or well-preserved remains. Family groups were placed together as far as was possible. The fact that Catholic cemetery rules prescribe an eight-foot depth for earth graves made both disinterring and reinterring an expensive job. A priest was always in attendance for all phases of the operation, and an inspector of the San Francisco Department of Public Health was also always present on the cemetery while disinterring was being undertaken. Screens were erected to prevent intrusion of curious onlookers, and work was carried on in a "careful and reverent manner". Relatives, heirs, survivors, plot-owners, or others properly interested, could witness the disinterment of particular person's remains, and their reinterment. Approximately 55,000 bodies were removed from Calvary in the project, most of them being transferred to the "Calvary Mound" in Holy Cross, although in many cases, families had individual remains transferred to family vaults or graves on privately-owned lots in Holy Cross. Careful records had to be maintained, and daily reports submitted to the Director of Public Health of San Francisco as to the number of bodies transferred, identity, conditions of remains, name of receiving cemetery, and the like. Similar reports were submitted to the Public Health Officer of Lawndale, and burial permits filed. Cemetery officials in both Calvary and Laurel Hill removal projects could immediately answer an interested relative as to whether or not their great-aunt had been transferred yet.

Bodies in Laurel Hill Cemetery were removed through a contract made by the Board of Trustees of the Laurel Hill Cemetery Association with Cypress Lawn Cemetery Association and the Cypress Abbey Company, of Colma. Approximately 35,000 bodies were removed in this operation, taking about sixteen months to complete. Every effort was made (as in the case of Calvary) to contact heirs, relatives, or plot-owners, so that they could make private removals and reinterments under their own arrangements, if possible. "Careful and reverent" handling of the remains was also the watchword here, and the view of curious passers-by was screened by six-foot cloth windscreens; jewelry found in graves and caskets was inventoried and placed in envelopes and sealed inside reinterment boxes. These boxes (made of redwood) were of varying sizes depending on conditions of the remains, and were all affixed with metal identification tags.

All bodies disinterred during a day were carried by hearse that day to Colma, where they were placed for storage in the Cypress Abbey Company's mausoleum, where they were to be kept, pending the construction of the Laurel Hill Association's memorial mausoleum and Pioneers mausoleum in Colma. Construction of the Laurel Hill mausoleum was delayed by the advent of World War II in 1941, and for six years the bodies were kept in Cypress Abbey's mausoleum. After the war, construction costs had risen so high that the Laurel Hill Association's proceeds from sale of the cemetery lands was insufficient -- after cost of body-removals from Laurel Hill and storage in Cypress Abbey had been paid -- to follow original plans for a mausoleum, and construction of a memorial or monument was decided on instead. A large "Burial Mound" plot was purchased within "Cypress Lawn Cemetery (and endowed with a perpetual-care fund) and underground concrete vaults were constructed to house the 35,000 Laurel Hill bodies. 'Each of the vaults holds several bodies, depending on the size of the removal-boxes in which they were placed, (some vaults holding fifty bodies), and family groups were placed together as far as possible. The "Burial Mound" covers about five acres.

Over 1,000 bodies were disinterred privately by relatives, heirs, family friends, or others, and moved to private plots in Cypress Lawn or other cemeteries. In some cases, the monuments which had been placed in Laurel Hill were likewise moved and placed over the new graves. Bodies were removed at the expense of the Cypress Lawn organization, but relatives paid the cost of reinterment and the cost of the new grave plot.

Total cost of removing bodies from Laurel Hill to Cypress Lawn, and reinterring them in the underground concrete vault was $535,125, which is itemized as follows:
Removal of bodies from Laurel Hill $121,544
Purchase of burial mound in Cypress Lawn 85,230
Construction of underground vaults 86,194
Reinterment of bodies in vaults 37,606
Endowment for perpetual-care fund 204,552
Total $535,125

From the sale of the Laurel Hill site, about $100,000 to $125,111 remains to finance the construction of a monument or memorial structure of some sort to be placed on the Cypress Lawn burial mound. Plans for this memorial are now being considered by the Laurel Hill Association Board of Trustees and plans are being drawn up by Thomas D. Church, one of the West' s foremost landscape architects.

Interesting details of the Laurel Hill cemetery removal project were found by the author in looking over some files made available to him by the management of Cypress Lawn Cemetery.

The plan of operation followed was to fence off a particular section of the cemetery (i. e., an area surrounded by cemetery drives) and remove all the bodies in it before moving to the next. The general movement was from west to east, getting the older, smaller, non-perpetual-care graves first, with the better-maintained family plots in the eastern end being moved last. This allowed more time for private removals. Three gangs of grave-diggers (nine men to a gang) were used, each under a bonded foreman. A general foreman, or superintendent, had charge of the entire operation, including clerical work at the cemetery office (keeping "inventory" of bodies removed and still in the cemetery up to date, filling out Health Department forms, making identification tags for removal boxes, etc.).

Sizes of removal boxes varied from six by six by twelve inches to two by three by six feet, and their cost varied from $.08 to $2.75 apiece.

A watchman was employed to act as gatekeeper during daytime operations (to prevent entry by persons not having a proper interest in the disinterments - relatives, etc.), and a night watchman was employed to prevent vandalism and malicious mischief.

After operations had been completed, the entire cemetery tract was retrenched to insure that all bodies had been removed. In this search, 189 additional bodies were located and removed.

The City and county removal ordnance of 1937 had specified that grave markers, headstones, and monuments, should remain for a period of ninety days after bodies were removed, so that interested parties could make prior disposition of them. Although some relatives, friends, historical societies and others did take over removal of these monuments (many of great historical value), the response was disappointing to the cemetery officials. In some cases, special appeals were made to the historical societies and pioneer groups, sometimes with a favorable response, other times not. Unclaimed headstones and monuments were turned over to the City and County Department of Public Works, which hauled them away in its own trucks for use in making sea-walls at Aquatic Park, and at the municipal yacht harbor.

Condition of remains disinterred varied from "dust" to almost perfectly embalmed bodies, the latter resulting from filling of cast-iron caskets with groundwater acting as a preservative. The superintendent of the disinterment proceedings told the author that his was an interesting job, but that in some cases it was not "pretty". The smell of death was often present, even though the remains had been laid to rest from thirty to seventy years previously. An interesting sidelight was the great number of infants buried, compared to present day frequencies of infant burials. The old cemetery records showed more daily infant burials than is true today in the Colma cemeteries, despite the larger population served today. Thus, a tangible evidence of reduced infant mortality rates.'

Laws, Rules, and Regulations Affecting the Cemetery Removals.

The general legal authority setting the pattern for the procedures followed in the removal of Laurel Hill and Calvary cemeteries was established in the "Second Morris Act" passed in 1923 (Statutes of California, 1923, Chap. 312) which has been incorporated with few changes into the Health and Safety Code of California as Chapter 4. under the provisions of this act, the Board of Supervisors passed Ordinances Numbers 17.193 and 17.194 "Ordering and Demanding the Disinterring and removal of Human Bodies Therefrom (Calvary and Laurel Hill) and Fixing a Time within which such Disinterring and Removal must be Performed" on April 26, 1937, approved by the voters November 2, 1937. The actual removals were carried out under rules and regulations established by the City and County director of Public Health, as required by the ordinances.

The State Health Code provides that "the governing body of any city, or city and county, having a population of more than 100,000 ..." (Chapter 3 has provisions for cities of less than 100,000 population)" may order the disinterment and removal of human remains interred in all or any part of any cemetery of more than five acres in extent, situated within its limits, where the right of interment in the cemetery has been prohibited by law for a period of fifteen years or more, whenever the governing body by ordinance declares that the further maintenance of all or any part of the cemetery as a burial place for the human dead threatens the health, safety, comfort, or welfare of the public and demands the disinterment and removal beyond the limits of the City or City and County of the human remains interred therein."

The State Code provides that a reasonable time of not less than two years may be set as a deadline for body removals. If the cemetery association or lot-owners do not undertake the removals in the period specified, the city itself may proceed to remove the remains and reinter them in another cemetery outside the City or City and County limits.

Likewise, the Code states that the "cemetery authority" (Association, board of trustees, church or other body operating the cemetery) may, after a period wherein plot-owners, relatives, heirs or others interested, are notified to remove the bodies in the cemetery, proceed itself to undertake the removals. (This is to prevent suits, as occurred in the case of Masonic and Odd Fellows cemetery-removal projects in 1923 here a majority of plot-owners had voted to abandon the cemeteries, but the courts held that the legislation then in force did not give authority to remove bodies against the wishes of the plot-owner or heir, inasmuch as the ownership-interest in the plot had not been wiped out by such majority vote.)

Other sections of the chapter provide for notices to friends or relatives prior to removal of remains, for removal of remains privately by relatives or friends; for requiring that monuments or memorials be left on the cemetery plot ninety days subsequent to the removal of the body; for reinterment in separate and suitable receptacle and respectful interment in another cemetery in a county or city where burials are permitted; for reservation of sufficient of the original cemetery site for the erection of a mausoleum or columbarium, and/or preservation of monuments or vaults of historical interest, and preservation of remains in the mausoleum or columbarium where it is desired that they not be removed from the cemetery location; for hearing before a superior court in the county in which the original cemetery was located to determine: (a) that all bodies had been removed from the cemetery land proposed for removal of dedication, and (b) that the property was no longer used or required for interment purposes. The Code also provided that funds received for the sale of cemetery lands could be used for:

(a) Acquisition of lands and improvements for cemetery purposes.
(b) Disinterment, removal, and reinterment of bodies.
(c) Perpetual care of graves, markers, and cemetery embellishments.
(d) The payment of expenses incidental to the disinterment, removal, and reinterment.
(e) "Any other purpose consistent with the objects for which the cemetery authority owning the cemetery is created or organized."

San Francisco's removal ordinances were merely implementations of the State Code, and in them it was noted that the two cemeteries were larger than five acres and that "health, welfare, and safety" factors required their removal, allowed the cemetery authorities three years in which to accomplish the task, provided that not more than ten per cent of the cemetery area could be retained for a memorial park, columbarium and mausoleum, and provided that the work should proceed under rules and regulations established by the Director of Public Health. The ordinance said that if the bodies were not removed by the cemetery association during the time limit specified, that the City and County itself would proceed with the disinterment of the bodies in the cemeteries and their reinterment in cemeteries outside the limits of the City and County.

The Director of Public Health of the City and County of San Francisco adopted rules and regulations to be followed in the cemetery removals shortly after the removal ordinances were approved by the electorate in 1937.

These rules and regulations required the cemeteries to maintain in their offices and to file with the Director a Register of Names (alphabetically arranged) of all interments remaining in the cemetery. Every thirty days, a list of disinterments made during the preceding thirty days was to be submitted showing name and identity of remains removed, section disinterred from, and cemetery, mausoleum or columbarium to which removal was made, these lists to be certified by the proper cemetery official. These monthly certificates and to contain the following statements:

(a) That disinterments were made in a decent and respectful manner.
(b) That each of the human remains as found was enclosed in a separate and suitable receptacle, properly marked, registered and recorded (all in a manner prescribed by law -- i.e., the State Health Code).
(c) This certification was to be concurred in by an inspector of the Director of Public Health.

Mechanical appliances were allowed by the Director's rules and regulations to "remove the surface in order to insure accurate location of interments, and to remove surface earth, stone curbs, monuments, trees, vaults, slabs, headstones, drains, gutters, pipes, concrete work and the like." This was limited to a depth of within two feet of human remains' resting places. Remaining work of disinterment was prescribed to be done by individual hand labor, with each human remains separately and carefully disinterred by hand.

Individual disinterment permits were required where relatives or friends desired private or individual removals. The cemeteries were authorized to exclude from the area of disinterments all persons except those actually engaged in the work, or with a proper interest in the activities. The Director of Public Health appointed inspectors (full-time) to be on hand at all times at the cemetery to insure compliance with the regulations, make reports to the Director, and the like.

The provision in the regulations allowing mechanical appliances to be used to de-mount monuments and gravestones caused sane protests and concern on the part of some Laurel Hill plot-owners, and those interested in preserving the pioneers' monuments. "They are going to demolish our beloved Pioneers' monuments and vaults with Bulldozers.'" In actuality, hand labor was used as far as possible in the demounting of the monuments, with block-and-tackle and other mechanical aids used on a careful and individually-controlled basis so that the monuments and headstones could be preserved. This careful preservation increased the operating cost of the removal process considerably, and in some cases was not followed by a similar concern on the part of relatives, friends, historical or Pioneer societies in the actual preservation of the monuments.

The cemetery authorities not only followed all the regulations, but took all possible precautions to insure a proper and reverent handling of the remains removed and reinterred. It was realized that the entire cemetery-removal program would decrease people's faith in the sanctity of dedicated cemetery ground, and as a matter of fact, an increase in cremations was noted by officials of cemetery associations in Colma during and subsequent to the San Francisco cemetery-removal programs. Considerable "sales-resistance" was also noted on the sale of cemetery lots, inasmuch as prospective purchasers would cite the cemetery-removals as an example, and say, '"What assurance do you have to give us that my plot will not, fifty years from now, be picked up and moved to make way for more densely built-up residential development's?"

Colma (Lawndale) -- "The Cemetery City"

As was stated above in Section IV., cemeteries were established in Colma (then called Lawndale) in San Mateo County in the early 1900's, at about the same time that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed its ordinances prohibiting further burials inside the limits of the City and County. Great blocks of agricultural land were purchased by the various associations and church groups to insure an adequate expansion factor". After the first San Francisco cemetery-removals (Odd Fellows and Masonic) had been completed in the early 1920's, it was decided to incorporate the area in which the cemeteries were located, so that the "memorial character" of the area could be preserved against encroachments of inconsistent uses, and so that adjacent cities or towns could not secure removal of cemeteries from their sites by annexing the area and passing ordinances requiring the removal of the cemeteries.

Thus, Lawndale was incorporated in 1924 as an 'Incorporated Town" (now known in the California Code as "Cities of the Sixth Class"). The name was changed recently from Lawndale to Colma because: (a) it was found that a post office of Lawndale existed in Southern California, in an unincorporated community of about 3,500 persons, and (b) the unincorporated town of Colma, adjacent to Lawndale, had been annexed to Daly City, thus leaving the name unused, so to speak. The City of Colma was listed in the 1950 Census as having 264 inhabitants. In 1940, the Census counted 354 persons in the town.

The City has no municipal property tax, and its small budget is paid out of burial fees (at $1.00 per burial), and from business license taxes. Government activities are centered in a beautiful little Spanish Mission style City Hall, located on El Camino Real, a six-lane divided state highway which bisects the city, where monthly meetings of the unpaid City Council take place, and where the Municipal Judge holds court on automobile speeders caught within the city limits on the state highway. The City Council appoints the various city officials, such as City Clerk, City Treasurer, City Attorney, Police Chief, Fire Chief, and Public Health Officer. Most of these officials receive a small monthly stipend, typically $25 a month, and their municipal duties require only a few hours a day of their time. The police department, and several clerical personnel at the city hall complete the full-time municipal personnel.

Policy problems are studied by standing committees of the City Council (Judiciary, Police and Health; Finance and Municipal Affairs; Highways, Buildings and Drainage; Lights and Water).

Cemetery associations own about three-fourths of the land located within the city limits. Highway frontage on El Camino Real (U, S, Route Number 101-Seattle-San Francisco-San Diego) which is not given over to cemetery use is used for florists' shops, nurseries, monument works, stonecutters' shops, and other businesses allied to cemetery activities.

Most of the residents and voters of Colma are connected with cemeteries, or allied activities, in some way. They are either proprietors or employees of the flower shops, nurseries, stonecutters and monument works, or they are employees of the cemetery associations, or their tenants. There are some residents who are not connected with the cemetery business (who own their own homes and work outside the city limits), but they are in the minority.

The cemeteries have established an association which is influential in establishing joint policies, and in formulating a unified front as to measures to be undertaken to protect their common interests. Interestingly enough, few of the officers of this association, or of the cemetery organizations themselves, are residents of Colma.

Just as the original intent of the incorporation was to preserve the "memorial character" of the area, as stated to the author by cemetery officials, so many of the ordinances enacted by the City Council are designed, directly or indirectly, to preserve the city's memorial character.

Not until March of 1950, however, was machinery for city planning and zoning established within the city. Ordinance Number 81, March 2, 1950, provided for the establishment of a City Planning Commission, established an interim zoning ordinance, and provided for the drawing up of a Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance. Only three zones were established in the interim zoning ordinance:

(1) "C -- 1" Cemeteries and accessory uses (stonecutters, nurseries , monument works, florists, etc.)
(2) "G -- 1" Residential
(3) "G -- 2" Agricultural

In this ordinance's preamble, it is stated:

"Whereas a majority of the lands located within the incorporated area are devoted to cemetery and accessory uses and

"Whereas. . .to protect the character and stability of both cemetery and residential land uses as an essential matter of public health and welfare. . . the establishment of the ordinance is necessary."

The ordinance provides that no land use, other than cemeteries and accessory residential or agriculture can be established without permit from the City Council. The memorial character of the city is outlined in this paragraph from the ordinance:

"The City of Colma is a Memorial City, the great majority of the buildings and lands located therein being dedicated to cemetery and accessory uses, making it essential to properly designate certain areas in order that compatibility may be obtained between cemetery uses and residential uses for the public health and welfare, and that certain uses be recognized as incompatible to the use presently served by the major areas within the incorporated limits of the city."

An immediate reason for establishing zoning in Colma was the projected move on the part of a non-cemetery property owner to sell off his farm land for use as a "Drive-In" theater, which would have been located immediately adjacent to one of the largest cemeteries. The act was adopted prior to initiation of any official action for the establishment of the theater (application for building permit), so that the City Council had sufficient legal basis for refusing the permit on the ground that the area was zoned for cemeteries.

Another important ordinance on Colma's books is one passed in 1948 (Number 76, November 12, 1948) which prohibits defacement or breaking of monuments, destroying of planting, depositing of rubbish, and the like in cemeteries, and prohibits "loitering or remaining on the grounds of a cemetery without the express permission of the superintendent after closing hours." (The loiterer then has the burden of proof to show that he was on a "lawful errand" in the cemetery.) This type of ordinance was cited to the author by a cemetery official as being one of the definite advantages of incorporation as a municipality. Where no such ordinance exists, "loiterers" can only be ordered off the land and cited for trespass. With the ordinance, the City Police Department can be notified, and the loiterer arrested for violation of the ordinance, and cited to appear before the municipal judge. "Controls of this sort are necessary, as there always appear to be a certain group of individuals who seem to get pleasure out of perpetrating malicious mischief in graveyards, skylarking, or even grave-robbing, and they are a very hard group to catch up with. It is important to our plot-owners, and to the relatives of those buried here, that adequate protection be established to guard against disrupting the memorial and reverent atmosphere that should surround a cemetery,"

Others of the city's ordinances are not particularly different from those of other cities, but they are, no doubt, useful in aiding in preserving Colma, as a "Memorial City". For instance, a 1937 ordinance (Number 49) prohibits bill-boards within the city limits. Dumping of refuse along public highways is prohibited. The keeping of animals and fowl is regulated; licenses are required for hog ranches (issued by the Public Health Officer after approval by the City Council). An ordinance passed in 1929 prohibits operation of vehicles in such a manner as to "cut in" on funeral processions. Ordinances affecting building permits, business licenses ("can be revoked if the business is not conducted in an orderly manner"), abatement of dilapidated buildings are also on the books. Discharge of firearms within the city limits is prohibited.

The Public Health Officer is one of the most important officers of the city. He is charged with the supervision of all "interment, cremation and disposal of human bodies in the Town, and issuance of burial permits". Interestingly enough, this ordinance regulating burial procedures was amended 1929 to permit cemeteries' receiving of human remains exhumed from other cemeteries, with proof of twenty-five years' burial to be substituted for the death certificate usually required (i.e., to care for the San Francisco cemetery-removal project),

New cemeteries cannot be established in Colma without approval by the City Council of the site location by written permit. The application for such cemetery establishment must include statements as to:

(a) The qualifications and experience of the officers of the proposed cemetery organization.
(b) Whether it is to be a profit or non-profit corporation.
(c) Statement of fiscal plans for perpetual care.
(d) Statement as to extent of perpetual care.

In general, officials of cemetery associations in Colma regard the incorporation of the city as an essential protection against the intrusion of businesses and land uses which might be proper in normal circumstances, but not in keeping with the proper environment for good cemeteries, They also regard it as their strongest weapon against being -- like Laurel Hill and Calvary cemeteries in San Francisco -- "picked up and moved further out into the country" when the pressure of land for further subdivision ad urbanization causes sentiment that "land for the living be substituted for land for the dead".

Cemetery officials with whom the author conferred expressed the feeling that the pressure to send cemeteries further and further out into the countryside could work hardships on some people. For many people, visits to loved ones' graves, placing of flowers on headstones on Sundays, holy days, Memorial Day, and so on, is an essential part of their religious life. Although Colma is situated within a few miles of the southern borders of San Francisco, and can be reached by public transit in about forty-five minutes from most of San Francisco's residential sections, they did not believe that cemeteries in metropolitan areas should be placed in more remote locations where they were inaccessible to the mass of people from the city's densely populated sections. Such remoteness would, in a manner of speaking, interfere with the exercise of what they consider to be a part of their religious rights and religious liberty.

Cremation is increasing in proportion to the total number of remains handled. Catholic church law does not permit the burial of cremated remains (except in certain circumstances and exceptions) in consecrated Catholic cemeteries.

Use Made of Land Vacated in San Francisco by the Removal of the Cemeteries

The abandonment of the four cemeteries in San Francisco (Masonic, Odd Fellows, Laurel Hill and Calvary) resulted in the addition of about 162 acres of developed area to the city's land use pattern, as follows:
Odd Fellows (1923) 27 acres (approximately)
Masonic (1923) 30 acres (approximately)
Calvary (1939-41) 49.2 acres
Laurel Hill (1939-41) 55.4 acres

Disposition of the land acquired for "live" uses was as follows:

(a) Odd Fellows Cemetery: A five acre tract was retained for a mausoleum and memorial park. About three additional acres now are used for commercial purposes. Approximately seven acres are in use in the Angelo Rossi Playground under the Jurisdiction of the San Francisco Recreation Commission. Most of the balance ( excluding street area) is in single family row-house development,

(b) Masonic Cemetery: The entire thirty acres has been taken over for the campus of the University of San Francisco, a Catholic institution for higher learning,

(c) Calvary Cemetery and Laurel Hill Cemetery sites were developed residentially together with shopping centers.

Originally, extensive plans were developed for the construction of a 1,000 unit low-cost public housing project on Calvary Cemetery property, but a strong battle was waged against this on the part of real estate men in the city, the Downtown Association, and other business groups and neighborhood groups in the Richmond District. The San Francisco Housing Authority found another site for the project (Sunnydale near the San Mateo County Line), and with the advent of the war, public housing on both Laurel Hill and Calvary was forgotten.

As the area involving the cemeteries had wisely been restricted to uses permitted in "First Residential" districts, the City Planning Commission had a definite voice in determining the type of subdivision which could be developed in this "frontier in the middle of the city". Through stipulations, the type of "Second Residential" (any multiple-family dwelling) could be controlled. Ten-foot set-back lines were established, a forty-foot height limit was established, a building coverage lit of 65 per cent was included in the stipulations for zone change. Lot subdivision followed the standards in the new minimum lot size ordinance calling for a minimum frontage width of thirty-three feet and 2500 square foot minimum area per lot. These restrictions encouraged emphasis on "flats" -- two to three "flats" per house -- and most of the buildings are attached row-houses. Suggestions that these two areas be built at low coverage with tall apartment buildings were rejected in favor of flats.

The shopping centers in the areas are required to provide parking space adequate for the size of the store areas, and signs not flush with the buildings are prohibited. A height limit is established for the commercial buildings.


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