The Kong Chow funerary monument in Lincoln Park, which-we have identified as a 2021 Landmark Fund project. Photo by John Martini.
In honor of Qingming, or Chinese Ancestor Memorial Festival that takes place every Spring, Supervisor Connie Chan announced her intent to initiate a landmark designation for Lincoln Park, which was once a large burial ground known as City Cemetery. From 1870 until 1898, City Cemetery was used as a burial ground for fraternal, veteran, Chinese, Japanese, French, Greek, Scandinavian, Italian, and Jewish associations. Although transformed into a park and golf course in the early twentieth century, an estimated ten thousand bodies still rest beneath the turf, and two prominent cemetery monuments still stand in two fairways.
“As a City elected leader, this is a deeply personal moment for me to have the privilege of honoring the history and sacrifice of generations of Chinese immigrants before my own arrival as a first-generation immigrant,” said Supervisor Chan. “And as we walk on the ground of Lincoln Park, it is my hope that this landmark designation will help us remember the blood and tears our Chinese immigrants shed as part of the power that has built San Francisco into the great city it is today.”
Throughout the open lifetime of the cemetery and years after, Chinese Companies sent representatives to temporarily bury deceased Chinese migrants who would then be disinterred by a Bone Collector who prepared the remains to be transported to their home villages. The burial of the deceased in the Chinese section of City Cemetery was an occasion for religious rites that included prayer, the burning of incense, food offerings of roast pig and fowl, and the burning of symbolic paper money and clothes for the deceased’s journeys in the afterlife. The Kong Chow funerary chapel in Lincoln Park is the last remaining structure that was designated to host these ceremonies.
“Despite its deep connections to San Francisco history and the city’s diverse cultures, public recognition of City Cemetery’s history and significance is almost non-existent,” said Woody LaBounty, interim President and CEO of San Francisco Heritage. “This land is a sacred space that deserves to be commemorated. A landmark designation would be an important first step.”
After its reclassification as a municipal park in 1909, users of the cemetery were given six months to disinter the remains of their buried dead, which occurred in a scattered and disorganized fashion throughout the time allotted, and as indicated by Health Officer reports, continued after the cemetery was closed. It remains unclear which societies removed their dead and how many dead were removed because no registers, records, or deeds about the cemetery have survived. The Kong Chow Funerary Chapel stands tall to this day as a symbolic intersection of past Chinese and San Franciscan culture and history worthy of landmark designation.
For questions or comments about this designation, contact Ian Fregosi, Legislative Aide to Supervisor Chan, at (415) 347-6232 | firstname.lastname@example.org