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Town of Colma
—  Town  —
Motto: "It's great to be alive in Colma"
Location in San Mateo County and the state of California
Coordinates: 37°40′44″N 122°27′20″W / 37.67889°N 122.45556°W / 37.67889; -122.45556Coordinates: 37°40′44″N 122°27′20″W / 37.67889°N 122.45556°W / 37.67889; -122.45556
Country United States
State California
County San Mateo
(as Lawndale) August 5, 1924
(name change to Colma) November 17, 1941
 - Mayor Helen Fisicaro
 - Interim City Manager Laura Allen
 - Total 1.9 sq mi (4.9 km2)
 - Land 1.9 sq mi (4.9 km2)
 - Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 121 ft (37 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 1,191
 - Density 624.6/sq mi (240.8/km2)
  United States Census Bureau
Time zone PST (UTC-8)
 - Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
ZIP code 94014
Area code(s) 650
FIPS code 06-14736
GNIS feature ID 1658303

Colma is a small incorporated town in San Mateo County, California, at the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area. The population was 1,191 at the 2000 census. The town was founded as a necropolis in 1924.[1]

With much of Colma's land dedicated to cemeteries (17 for the interment of humans and one for pets), the dead population outnumber the living by thousands to one. This has led to it being called, "the city of the silent," and also has given rise to a humorous motto among some residents: "It's great to be alive in Colma."[1]



The community of Colma was formed in the 1800s as a collection of homes and small businesses along El Camino Real and the adjacent 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.

Colma became the location of a large number of cemeteries when San Francisco, the town's powerful neighbor to the north, passed an ordinance in 1900 outlawing the construction of any more cemeteries in the city (mainly because of increased property values making the cost of using land for cemeteries prohibitive), and then passed another ordinance in 1912 evicting all existing cemeteries from city limits. (A similar scenario prevails in New York City's borough of Manhattan, where there are only two active cemeteries, both in the recently gentrified Lower Eastside, with marble-lined, underground vaults that pass Department of Health codes.)[2] The relocation of cemeteries from San Francisco to Colma is the subject of A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco's Lost Cemeteries, (2005) a documentary by Trina Lopez.

The Town of Lawndale was incorporated in 1924 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 area immediately to the north continued to be known as Colma. Because another city in California with the name Lawndale (in Los Angeles County) already existed, the post office retained the Colma designation, and so the town changed its name back to Colma in 1941.

Originally, the residents of the town were primarily employed in occupations related to the many cemeteries in the town. Since the 1980s, Colma has become more diversified, with a variety of retail businesses and automobile dealerships, which have brought more sales tax revenue to the town government.[1]

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

Notable interments

Essentially everyone who died in San Francisco in the twentieth Century was buried in Colma, if they were buried anywhere.

Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst is buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, as are business magnate William Henry Crocker; San Francisco Chronicle founder Charles De Young, horticulturist John McLaren, and jazz musician and bandleader Turk Murphy.

Wyatt Earp is buried at the Hills of Eternity, in Colma, next to his wife, Josephine Marcus.[1]

Joe DiMaggio, the baseball player is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery;[1] as are coffee heiress and Manson murder victim Abigail Folger, San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto, 32nd governor of California Pat Brown, Bank of America founder A.P. Giannini, Senator James D. Phelan, and jazz musician Vince Guaraldi

Woodlawn Cemetery in Colma is the final resting place of Emperor Norton and Henry Miller—a California cattle rancher, not the famous author, whose ashes were scattered off Big Sur.

Geography and geology

Colma is located at 37°40′44″N 122°27′20″W / 37.67889°N 122.45556°W / 37.67889; -122.45556 (37.678780, -122.455513).[3] According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 1.9 square miles (4.9 km2), all of it land. The town's 17 cemeteries comprise approximately 73% of the town's land area.

Colma is situated on the San Francisco Peninsula on the eastern foothills of the northwest trending Santa Cruz Mountain Range. 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-square-foot (24,000 m2) mixed use Metro Center.[4]

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


Colma Station, located just north of Colma in an unincorporated area bordering Daly City, serves the city as part of the BART system. The station is served by the Dublin/Pleasanton - SFO/Millbrae Line.[5] The next station to the south on this line is South San Francisco Station, located 0.1 miles from Colma's southern city limits and Holy Cross Cemetery.

SamTrans provides bus service to the city.

Planning and environmental factors

When the Metro Center was developed, the Environmental Impact Report required a methane gas collection system to be constructed in order to collect off-gassing from the prior municipal solid waste disposal site at that location.


Informally, as of December 2006, Colma had "1,500 aboveground residents ... and 1.5 million underground".[1] Formally, as of the census[6] 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/sq mi (69.1/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 48.36% White, 1.43% African American, 23.68% Asian, 0.25% Pacific Islander, 19.48% from other races, and 6.80% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 43.91% of the population.

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 $58,750, and the median income for a family was $60,556. Males had a median income of $32,059 versus $29,934 for females. The per capita income for the town was $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.

Colma: The Musical

The 2007 independent, low-budget American film Colma: The Musical was shot on location in Colma. The film has won several special jury prizes at local and international film festivals.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Pogash, Carol (2006-12-03). "Colma, Calif., Is a Town of 2.2 Square Miles, Most of It 6 Feet Deep". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-12-09.  
  2. ^
  3. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  
  4. ^ 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)
  5. ^ "BART - Station Overviews, Colma Station". Stations & Schedules. Bay Area Rapid Transit. 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-08.  
  6. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  
  7. ^ Dargis, Manohla (July 6, 2007). "Big Teenage Dreams, Small-Town Doldrums". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-08.  
  8. ^ "Colma: The Musical Home Page". GreenRockSolid.LLC. July 5, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-08.  


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