Tag Archives: Home of Peace

Cemetery of the Week #135: Temple Emanu-El’s Home of Peace

A view in Home of Peace

A view in Home of Peace

Home of Peace (Navai Shalome)
1299 El Camino Real
Colma, California 94014
Telephone: (650) 755-4700
Established: January 1, 1888
Size: 20 “graciously landscaped” acres at the foot of the San Bruno Mountains, according to the cemetery’s website.
Number of interments: More than 20,000 (according to A Self-Guided Tour of Colma Cemeteries by Frances Liston, undated)
Open: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday through Friday. Closed on Saturdays, major Jewish Holy Days, and secular holidays.

As early as 1848, Jewish settlers in San Francisco set aside land bounded by Vallejo, Broadway, Franklin, and Gough Streets in the current Pacific Heights neighborhood (then on the edge of town) for a graveyard called the Emanuel Hart Cemetery. In the early days of the Gold Rush, if a Jewish miner died in the diggings, it was important that his friends send his body to San Francisco to be buried with other Jews.

Traders and merchants from Bavaria founded Congregation Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco in 1850. Many of the members had come west for the Gold Rush, but found the money was better if they served the burgeoning populace providing hats, boots, and clothing, as well as importing dry goods from relatives on the East Coast.

After the population exploded in the 1850s, the edges of the city of San Francisco encroached on the Jewish pioneers’ graveyard. The bodies of early Jewish settlers were exhumed in 1860 and moved to a new two-acre graveyard, called Home of Peace, near the old Mission. It was bounded by 18th and 19th Streets and Church and Dolores, where Dolores Park is now. Photographs of the era show a beautiful sloping cemetery full of bright white marble monuments. Historian Michael Svanevik said in City of Souls that this Home of Peace became “San Francisco’s most prestigious Hebrew burial ground.”

Whether due to the pressure of an ever-expanding population or to anti-Semitic vandalism (as Svanevik suggested in a lecture given at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in August 2001, the congregation of Temple Emanu-El began to look for a permanent burial ground. In 1888, Temple president Martin Heller arranged to buy 73 acres of land in northern San Mateo County from the Catholic Archbishop Patrick Riordan. The area would later become known as Colma.

As soon as the original deed of purchase was signed in 1887, bodies began to be moved from the Dolores Park cemetery to this new Home of Peace. All of the bodies and headstones were carefully moved. Each corpse was reburied in an individual grave, as opposed to the mass reburials in the Gentile graveyards. In all, an estimated 13,000 pioneers were reburied, although many of them no longer had markers. The original markers that did survive are still visible in the back of Home of Peace, where families were buried together whenever possible. The final body was reinterred in 1910 and the former cemetery land in San Francisco was sold for development. The city turned it into Dolores Park.

Home of Peace in Colma is the largest Jewish cemetery in Northern California, founded by the largest Jewish congregation in Northern California. The cemetery contains some of the most beautiful private family tombs in Colma.


Levi Strauss’s mausoleum

After he made his fortune selling rivet-strengthened blue denim trousers to the Forty-Niners, Levi Strauss built a beautiful white-domed tomb, valued at $48,000, in 1908. It features a bust of Fanny Stern, his mother, which is said to have been commissioned from Auguste Rodin.

San Francisco’s 21st mayor, philanthropist “Silver King” Adolph Sutro — who gave the city the Cliff House, Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights, and eucalyptus-covered Mount Sutro behind the University of California San Francisco campus on Parnassus — built a massive underground vault in Home of Peace for his estranged wife Leah and other members of his family. His ashes, as well as those of his daughter Emma were buried on the grounds of his home at Point Lobos, now called Sutro Heights Park. Judy Edmonson, General Manager of Home of Peace Cemetery, said in a tour in 2008 that Sutro’s ashes had recently been located during repair work on the Heights. The website Found SF reports that the urn full of ashes had been removed from the hillside and now resides with a family member.


The grave of Adolph Sutro’s family

Other important San Franciscans buried in Home of Peace include Isais Wolf Hellman (one of the founders of Wells Fargo Bank), members of the Zellerbach family (of Crown Zellerbach Corporation, the second largest wood pulp and paper business in the world), Aaron Fleishhacker (who came out during the Gold Rush and found his fortune manufacturing boxes), Ignatz Steinhart (a philanthropist for whom the aquarium in Golden Gate Park is named), and Walter Wanger, a Hollywood movie director who started the careers of Rudolph Valentino, Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor. Alice B. Toklas’s parents are buried here, too.

The Home of Peace mausoleum opened in 1936, designed in the Byzantine Revival style by Wayne S. Hertzka (also buried there) and William E. Knowles. The mausoleum’s red-tiled dome, marble interior, and torpedo-globed chandeliers evoke Congregation Emanu-El’s temple at the corner of Lake Street and Arguello Boulevard in San Francisco, which had been inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The mausoleum and its chapel were remodeled by Mae and Benjamin H. Swig in the 1980s.

Home of Peace is “dedicated to serving all families of the Jewish faith.” One didn’t — and doesn’t — need to be a member of the congregation of Temple Emanu-El to be buried there. In fact, the graveyard provides burial sections for Congregation Beth Shalom, Peninsula Temple Sholom of Burlingame, and World War II veterans from the former Soviet Union.

Some of the cemetery’s un-landscaped area is used to grow organic produce for the San Francisco Food Bank. According to the Images of America book Jewish San Francisco, the Peah Garden donated 30,000 pounds of vegetables to the Food Bank in 2005, the largest contribution of fresh produce that year.

Useful links:
Temple Emanu-El history

Temple Emanu-El page for Home of Peace

The Jewish Cemeteries of Colma home page

My review of Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of California

My review of Images of America: Colma

Other Colma cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cypress Lawn Memorial Park

Woodlawn Memorial Park

Hills of Eternity, which shares the entryway with Home of Peace in Colma.

Colma, Before the Graveyards

Colma, CA (Images of America)Colma, CA by Michael Smookler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only thing that keeps this book from getting 5 stars is that it isn’t longer. I have several books on the cemeteries of Colma, California, so it’s nice to have one about the city’s history prior to its 17 graveyards. Smookler does a good job of giving a sense of what life was like there, before the living were replaced by the dead.

For those who don’t know, Colma, California was a sleepy little farming town south of San Francisco.  When the big city real estate interests decided they wanted to develop the land in the peninsular city that had been devoted to graveyards, they passed a series of laws outlawing burial in the city, which slowly strangled the cemeteries of their income.  Eventually, all the bodies were removed from San Francisco and the grave monuments were smashed up to provide breakwaters at Ocean Beach, the Marina, the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, and other construction projects around town.

As if that isn’t morbid enough, Colma absorbed all the pioneers who were unearthed.  Now the dead outnumber the living in Colma more than 100,000 to 1.

Smookler’s book illustrates the farming village before and after the change.  Irish immigrants grew potatoes, Itallians grew flowers, there were blacksmiths and horse ranchers and pig farmers.  Then the Archbishop of San Francisco, seeing the writing on the wall, purchased a large tract of land for a cemetery. The Catholics were followed by the owners of Laurel Hill Cemetery, several Jewish congregations, the Odd Fellows, the Masons, and ethnic groups from the Chinese, the Japanese, the Serbians, and the Italians, all of whom purchased land so they could remain together after death.

Colma remains a fascinating place to this day.  Smookler’s book reveals the town beyond the graveyard walls, shaped by local employment opportunities and the proximity of its quiet residents.  I found the book entirely fascinating.

You can order your own copy from Amazon: Colma (Images of America) (Arcadia Publishing))

Other books I’ve reviewed that relate to Colma:

City of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma

Forgotten Faces: A Window into Our Immigrant Past

Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of California

Cypress Lawn: Guardian of California’s Heritage

Pillars of the Past: At Rest at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park 

Your first guide to the cemeteries of Los Angeles

Forever L.A: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their ResidentsForever L.A: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their Residents by Douglas Keister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the best guide to the cemeteries of Los Angeles yet. Jammed with Douglas Keister’s beautiful color photographs — all exquisitely printed — the book weighs more than the other guides, which might make it prohibitive to drag around a graveyard with you, if you’re juggling a camera and notebook, too. If you’re just sightseeing, this is the book for you. All the color headstone photos make it easy to know exactly what you’re looking for.

However, the book is short on history of the graveyards. Permanent Californians is better for that, as well as more fully developed biographies of the biggest stars. Forever L.A. also focuses on fewer celebrities; if you want a more comprehensive list, Laid to Rest in California is the book you want.

In addition, Forever L.A. suffers from puzzling organization. You can read the section on Westwood Village Memorial Park, but the text directs you elsewhere in the book to the listing for Don Knotts and somewhere else again to read about Marilyn Monroe. In fact, Marilyn’s biography snuggles up against one for Joe DiMaggio, who isn’t buried in L.A. at all. I guess this just proves my contention that any collection of gravestones is necessarily going to be idiosyncratic and reflect the predilections of the person compiling it.

I see what Keister was doing when he collected together all the stars of The Wizard of Oz or Bonanza or It’s a Mad, Mad (etc.) World, but I found it frustrating not to have all the cemetery information gathered into the appropriate chapter when I was standing in the graveyard. Is this book meant for armchair travelers or people in the field?

And why is the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland included at all? While the photos are lovely, the section takes up valuable book real estate that could have been used by Angelus Rosedale, where Hattie McDaniel is buried and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was filmed.

Still, if you are traveling to L.A. and want to visit graveyards, I suggest you start with this book. It’s the most recent and has by far the prettiest pictures. You just might want to dip into the other books for more depth after you get home.

Start your collection of L.A. cemetery guides here: Forever L.A.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Textured

Monuments moved to Home of Peace from defunct graveyard in San Francisco

A large part of what I find appealing about grave markers is their attempt at permanence.  By definition, tombstones outlive the people whose names they bear.  Cold, hard, unfeeling: stone strives for immortality by its presence.

In truth, what I’ve learned from cemeteries is that limestone melts, marble breaks, slate slivers, and sandstone cracks.  White bronze can become brittle.  The materials of permanence are not so permanent after all.

In the course of my study of graveyards, I’ve learned that permanent burial places, as we think of them, are a fairly recent phenomenon.  I was shocked when I discovered the “final” resting places of millions throughout the U.S.  are rarely final. In San Francisco, the anonymous graves of the Spaniards and Mexicans buried at the Presidio have been consolidated into mass graves at the San Francisco National Cemetery.   In fact, whole cemeteries have been exhumed and shifted from Russian Hill, South of Market, Civic Center, beside the old Veterans Hospital, for miles along Geary Boulevard between Masonic Avenue and Arguello, and from Lincoln Park where the Palace of the Legion of Honor now stands.

San Francisco also had several cemeteries of Jewish pioneers, all of which have been moved to Colma.  The largest of these was in what’s now Dolores Park, in the heart of the very Catholic Mission District.  Vandalism was an ongoing problem before Temple Emanu-El bought the land for Home of Peace in Colma, where these stones now stand.

I love the faces of these old stones. They look as if they’ve led interesting lives. They may be stained and painted with lichen, but still they stand proudly upright. They continue to honor those who lie beneath them and their memories are clear.

Other remnants of San Francisco’s historic cemeteries:

The Wave Organ

Cemetery of the Week #13: Mission Dolores Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #30: the San Francisco Columbarium


City of Souls

City of Souls: San Francisco's Necropolis at ColmaCity of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma by Michael Svanevik

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

California’s Colma is unique in the U.S. as a city founded to safeguard the rights of the dead. This little book traces Colma’s history from a fog-bound valley of pig and potato farms to a city of 17 cemeteries with millions of permanent residents.

Colma was founded after burials were banned in San Francisco.  Pioneers buried at Mission Dolores, as well as in the Masonic, Odd Fellows, Catholic and Protestant Cemeteries were uprooted and transferred to new graves in the Colma cemeteries.

Each of the Colma cemeteries receives its own brief chapter, spotlighting important or interesting burials, which are marked on a graveyard map. The variety of memorials is astounding — from the millionaire mausoleums of Cypress Lawn to the handmade monuments crowded into Pets Rest, from the Eastern European flavor of the Serbian graveyard to the East Asian texture of the Japanese or Chinese cemeteries — all documented by black-and-white photos. There’s a lot here to delight the eye and entertain the intellect. This little book is a must for anyone interested in cemeteries.

Although new copies can be hard to find, several are available on Amazon: City of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma

View all my reviews