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Colma, California

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Colma, California
Town of Colma
A cemetery in Colma
A cemetery in Colma
Official seal of Colma, California

"It's great to be alive in Colma"
Location of Colma in San Mateo County, California.
Location of Colma in San Mateo County, California.
Colma, California is located in San Francisco
Colma, California
Colma, California
Location of Colma
Colma, California is located in San Francisco Bay Area
Colma, California
Colma, California
Colma, California (San Francisco Bay Area)
Colma, California is located in California
Colma, California
Colma, California
Colma, California (California)
Colma, California is located in the United States
Colma, California
Colma, California
Colma, California (the United States)
Coordinates: 37°40′44″N 122°27′20″W / 37.67889°N 122.45556°W / 37.67889; -122.45556
CountryUnited States
CountySan Mateo
Incorporated as "Lawndale"August 5, 1924[1]
Name changed to "Colma"November 17, 1941
 • Mayor[2]Joanne F. del Rosario
 • City Manager[3]Brian Dossey
 • Total1.91 sq mi (4.93 km2)
 • Land1.91 sq mi (4.93 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)  0%
121 ft (37 m)
 • Total1,792
 • Estimate 
 • Density792.65/sq mi (306.07/km2)
 United States Census Bureau
Time zoneUTC−8 (PST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
ZIP Code
Area code(s)650
FIPS code06-14736
GNIS feature ID1658303

Colma is a small incorporated town in San Mateo County, California, on the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area. The population was 1,792 at the 2010 census. The town was founded as a necropolis in 1924.[6]

With most of Colma's land dedicated to cemeteries, the population of the dead—about 1.5 million, as of 2006—outnumbers that of the living by nearly a thousand to one. This has led to Colma's being called "the City of the Silent" and has given rise to a humorous motto, now recorded on the city's website: "It's great to be alive in Colma."[6]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ The City of the Dead: Colma, California
  • ✪ WYATT EARP - Visiting The Wild West Cowboy Legend's Grave Site In Colma, CA
  • ✪ Colma First Amendment Audit. City of the Dead
  • ✪ JOE DIMAGGIO - Visiting The Baseball Legend At His Grave Site In Colma, CA


There aren't many graveyards in San Francisco. Two, actually: a small one at Mission Dolores Church, and a military one at the Presidio. San Francisco land is too expensive to be given to the dead, and it has been for a long time: in the first decades of the 20th century, all the 150,000 bodies buried in San Francisco were moved. To one town. Here. Welcome to Colma, just a few miles south of San Francisco: a town known as the City of Souls. Colma is only a small place, but about three-quarters of it is made up of cemeteries. About one and a half thousand people live here... along with about one and a half million who don't so much live here as just... rest. That means the dead outnumber the living by around a thousand to one. And many of those bodies were moved here from their first resting place, or their second, or their third. The trouble was that San Francisco ran out of room, and banned new burials. the dead don't pay rent, and their living relatives don't really want to either. With no new, er, customers arriving in San Francisco, the old graveyards there had no money for upkeep, and fell into ruin. There were reports of grave robbery, of valuables or -- occasionally -- of skeletons. So fourteen cemetery associations founded this town as a place for the dead. Many of those moved here were placed in mass graves, their tombstones sold to be used for construction material or dumped in the Bay as breakwaters. With no-one to pay for new funeral plots and more than a hundred thousand bodies to move, the folks doing the job took shortcuts. Sometimes, modern construction work in San Francisco will exhume dozens of bodies that the movers missed. So why go to the trouble of moving them at all, then? Well, it was either move the bodies immediately, or deal with them while you're digging foundations for new buildings anyway. What else were they going to do? Almost everyone has a fear and disgust response to death, for good reasons: and religion and tradition in America, then, dictated that the dead must be buried. The Catholic Church wouldn't allow cremation until decades later, and, well, there wasn't another option. And sure, the comments on this video will make all sorts of horror movie or zombie apocalypse jokes -- and if you've already done that, congratulations, you're not original -- but here's a different question: most people figure that cemetery plots are forever. If you choose to be buried, the spot where you're laid to rest is permanently yours, at least in some sense of yours. That's not true: already, some areas of Europe are re-using graves, and eventually every headstone's going to be weathered away. So here's my question: when does moving a body stop being disrespect for the dead and start being archaeology?



The origin of the name Colma is widely disputed. Before 1872, Colma was designated as "Station" or "School House Station,” the name of its post office in 1869. Currently, there seem to be seven possible sources of the town's being called Colma:[7]

  • William T. Coleman[who?], allegedly known as the "Lion of the Vigilantes" and a significant landowner in the area
  • Thomas Coleman[who?], a registered voter in the district in the 1870s
  • A transfer name from Europe: Alsace has a Colmar
  • A re-spelling of an ancient Uralic word meaning death
  • A literary origin from James Macpherson's Songs of Selma, in one of the Ossianic fragments
  • Native American languages:
    • "Kolma" means "moon" in one dialect of the Costanoan, or the Ohlone people, who lived in the area; however, this name does not appear on any design ("diseño") of Indian rancherias at the time
    • A local Native American word meaning "springs", of which many can be found around the city.[8]
  • A corruption of Colima, a Mexican place name meaning volcano, but also ancestors.[9]
  • The humorous implication that one must be in a coma (vaguely homophonous to 'Colma') to enjoy living in Colma.


The community of Colma was formed in the 19th century as a collection of homes and small businesses along El Camino Real and the adjacent San Francisco and San Jose Railroad line. Several churches, including Holy Angels Catholic Church, were founded in these early years. The community founded its own fire district, which serves the unincorporated area of Colma north of the town limits, as well as the area that became a town in 1924.

Hienrich (Henry) von Kempf moved his wholesale nursery here in the early part of the 20th century, from the land where the Palace of Fine Arts currently sits (in what was known as "Cow Hollow") in San Francisco. The business was growing, and thus required more space for Hienrich's plants and trees. Hienrich then began petitioning to turn the Colma community into an agricultural township. He succeeded and became the town of Colma's first treasurer.

In the early 20th century, Colma was the site of many major boxing events. Middleweight world champion Stanley Ketchel held six bouts at the Mission Street Arena in Colma, including two world middleweight title bouts against Billy Papke and a world heavyweight title bout against Jack Johnson.[10]

San Francisco cemetery relocations

Colma became the site for numerous cemeteries after San Francisco outlawed new interments within city limits in 1900, then evicted all existing cemeteries in 1912. Approximately 150,000 bodies were moved between 1920 and 1941 at a cost of $10 per grave and marker. Those for whom no one paid the fee were reburied in mass graves, and the markers were recycled in various San Francisco public works.[11] The completion of the relocation was delayed until after World War II; these events are the subject of A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco's Lost Cemeteries (2005), a documentary by Trina Lopez.[12] The main rail line between San Francisco and San Jose running through Colma had been bypassed in 1907 for a route closer to the San Francisco Bay shoreline, and the former main line was repurposed as a branch line to move coffins to Colma. Decades later, the right-of-way for the rail line through Colma was purchased by BART for use in the San Francisco International Airport extension project.[11]

The Town of Lawndale was incorporated in 1924,[11] primarily at the behest of the cemetery owners with the cooperation of the handful of residents who lived closest to the cemeteries. The residential and business areas immediately to the north continued to be known as Colma. Because another California city named Lawndale already existed, in Los Angeles County, the post office retained the Colma designation, and the town changed its name back to Colma in 1941.[11]

Originally, Colma's residents were primarily employed in occupations related to the many cemeteries in the town. Since the 1980s, however, Colma has become more diversified, and a variety of retail businesses and automobile dealerships has brought more sales tax revenue to the town government.[6][13]

A panoramic view of Colma, California, looking down from San Bruno Mountain.

Notable interments

Many, if not most of the well known people who died in San Francisco since the first cemeteries opened there have been buried or reburied in Colma, with an additional large number of such burials in Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery. Some notable people interred in Colma include:

Geography and geology

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 1.9 sq mi (4.9 km2), all land. The town's 17 cemeteries comprise approximately 73% of the town's land area.[6]

Colma is situated on the San Francisco Peninsula at the highest point of the Merced Valley, a gap between San Bruno Mountain and the northernmost foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountain Range.[16][17] The foothills and eastern flanks of the range are composed largely of poorly consolidated Pliocene-Quaternary freshwater and shallow marine sediments that include the Colma and Merced Formations, recent slope wash, ravine fill, colluvium, and alluvium. These surficial deposits unconformably overlay the much older Jurassic to Cretaceous-aged Franciscan Assemblage. An old landfill about 135 deep existed at the site developed by the 260,000 sq ft (24,000 m2) mixed-use Metro Center.[18]

Colma Creek flows through the city as it makes its way from San Bruno Mountain to San Francisco Bay.


Colma station on BART and SamTrans buses serve the city.


Colma has one private school, Holy Angels School, a Catholic school for kindergarten through 8th grade.[19]

Colma belongs to the Jefferson Elementary School District, which has two schools in Colma: Garden Village Elementary (grades K–5) and Benjamin Franklin Intermediate (grades 6–8). High school students typically attend Westmoor High School in the Jefferson Union High School District.


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 20161,510[5]−15.7%
U.S. Decennial Census[20]

Informally, as of 2006 Colma had "1,500 aboveground residents ... and 1.5 million underground".[6]


The 2010 United States Census[21] reported that Colma had a population of 1,792. The population density was 938.6 people per square mile (362.4/km²). The racial makeup of Colma was 620 (34.6%) White, 59 (3.3%) African American, 7 (0.4%) Native American, 619 (34.5%) Asian, 9 (0.5%) Pacific Islander, 366 (20.4%) from other races, and 112 (6.3%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 708 persons (39.5%).

The Census reported that 1,763 people (98.4% of the population) lived in households, 0 (0%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 29 (1.6%) were institutionalized.

There were 564 households, out of which 217 (38.5%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 271 (48.0%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 110 (19.5%) had a female householder with no husband present, 42 (7.4%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 44 (7.8%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 8 (1.4%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 91 households (16.1%) were made up of individuals and 31 (5.5%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.13. There were 423 families (75.0% of all households); the average family size was 3.45.

The population was spread out with 390 people (21.8%) under the age of 18, 178 people (9.9%) aged 18 to 24, 532 people (29.7%) aged 25 to 44, 488 people (27.2%) aged 45 to 64, and 204 people (11.4%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36.4 years. For every 100 females, there were 92.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.9 males.

There were 586 housing units at an average density of 306.9 per square mile (118.5/km²), of which 224 (39.7%) were owner-occupied, and 340 (60.3%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 1.7%; the rental vacancy rate was 2.3%. 738 people (41.2% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 1,025 people (57.2%) lived in rental housing units.


In the census[22] of 2000, there were 1,191 people, 329 households, and 245 families residing in the town. The population density was 624.6 people per square mile (240.8/km2). There were 342 housing units at an average density of 179.4 per square mile (69.1/km2).

There were 329 households out of which 36.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.1% were married couples living together, 11.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.5% were non-families. 17.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.47 and the average family size was 3.92.

In the town the population was spread out with 24.7% under the age of 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 31.7% from 25 to 44, 19.1% from 45 to 64, and 15.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females, there were 87.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.9 males.

The median income for a household in the town was US$58,750, and the median income for a family was US$60,556. Males had a median income of US$32,059 versus US$29,934 for females. The per capita income for the town was US$20,241. About 3.4% of families and 5.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.8% of those under age 18 and 3.7% of those age 65 or over.

In popular culture

  • Harold and Maude, (1971), a dark comedy about a death-obsessed young man and a vivacious older woman, filmed scenes at Holy Cross Cemetery and elsewhere on the Peninsula. [23]
  • Tales of the City (novel and 1993 miniseries), has a minor character named Candi Moretti, a waitress whose name tag says she is from Colma.
  • Colma (1998), the fourth studio album released by guitarist Buckethead, makes reference to the town of Colma.[24]
  • A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco's Lost Cemeteries (2005), by Trina Lopez, documents the relocation of cemeteries from San Francisco to Colma.[12]
  • Alive in Necropolis (2008), a novel by Doug Dorst.
  • Colma: The Musical (2007) is an American independent film that was shot on location in Colma and Daly City. The film has won several special jury prizes at local and international film festivals.[25][26]
  • Colma: A Journey of Souls (2014) is a documentary film about the history of Colma, produced by Kingston Media in association with the Colma Historical Society.[27]


  1. ^ "California Cities by Incorporation Date". California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions. Archived from the original (Word) on November 3, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2014.
  2. ^ [1]. Retrieved on 2019-01-20.
  3. ^ City Manager Home. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
  4. ^ "2016 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Jul 19, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Pogash, Carol (3 December 2006). "Colma, Calif., Is a Town of 2.2 Square Miles, Most of It 6 Feet Deep". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 February 2011.
  7. ^ Gudde, Erwin G. California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names (4th ed.). University of California Press. p. 86.
  8. ^ "And Just How Are Things in Colma, Calif.? Awfully Quiet, Night and Day". New York Times. April 21, 1996. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
  9. ^ [2][permanent dead link] of state name: From the Náhuatl (Amerindian) word collimaitl. Colli means either ancestors or volcano, and maitl means domain of.
  10. ^ "Stanley Ketchel - Boxer". October 15, 1910. Archived from the original on May 18, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
  11. ^ a b c d Branch, John (February 5, 2016). "The Town of Colma, Where San Francisco's Dead Live". The New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2018.
  12. ^ a b Bressler, Janice (July 3, 2018). "New film highlights history of Richmond's lost cemeteries". Richmond ReView / Sunset Beacon. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
  13. ^ Boudreau, John (12 June 1994). "Couldn't you just die? Necropolis USA: One town's underground economy". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  14. ^ a b c Roisman, Jon (November 6, 2014). "Local Jewish history comes to life at cemetery walk".
  15. ^ jon roisman. "Local Jewish history comes to life at cemetery walk". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  16. ^ Colma Cardroom Project, Environmental Impact Report, Environmental Science Associates, prepared for the city of Colma (1993); IV.B. "Geology and Soils" Archived 2015-07-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ About the Mountain: Topography and Climate Archived 2015-07-25 at the Wayback Machine, San Bruno Mountain Watch (nd).
  18. ^ M.Papineau, B.George, J.Buxton et al., Environmental Impact Report for the Metro Center, Colma, California, Earth Metrics report 10062, prepared for the city of Colma and the California State Clearinghouse (1989)
  19. ^ "About Us". Holy Angels School. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  20. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Archived from the original on April 26, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  21. ^ "2010 Census Interactive Population Search: CA - Colma town". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  22. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  23. ^ "Harold and Maude Bay Area Filming Locations". Harold and Maude homepage. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
  24. ^ "Colma - Buckethead — Listen and discover music at". Retrieved 2016-02-15.
  25. ^ Manohla Dargis (July 6, 2007). "Big Teenage Dreams, Small-Town Doldrums". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-05-28.
  26. ^ "Colma: The Musical". GreenRockSolid. July 5, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-08.
  27. ^ Livengood, Carolyn (October 30, 2014). "Veterans Day to be observed at Golden Gate National Cemetery". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved October 5, 2018.

External links

This page was last edited on 14 November 2019, at 08:06
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