- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco finally has found a resting place for the remains of nearly 100 Gold Rush-era residents unearthed three years ago during construction of the Asian Art Museum.

Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, a small city with 17 cemeteries just south of San Francisco, has offered to take the remains of 97 men, women and children originally buried in the city’s first public cemetery — now the site of City Hall, the museum and the new city library. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the move this week.

Some city leaders are worried that museum visitors, especially those with Buddhist or Taoist beliefs, will stay away when they learn that the deceased still haven’t been properly buried. During the past three years, the remains — mostly fragments of bones, clothing and jewelry — have been stored in boxes in the basement of the coroner’s office.

“I have never set foot in the museum. I’m uncomfortable because the dead haven’t been taken care of,” said Chinatown activist Rose Pak. “If people were told about it, I’m sure lots of people would have second thoughts about going in.”

The Civic Center area was home to the Yerba Buena Cemetery until the 1870s, when the city disinterred the graves to make room for the original City Hall. All the graves were supposed to be moved to a new cemetery near Twin Peaks, but for unknown reasons, many were left behind.

After City Hall was destroyed by the famous 1906 earthquake and fire, the site became home to the city’s main library until 1999, when construction began on the Asian Art Museum. Museum officials anticipated the discovery of remains, so they hired an archaeologist to remove and document them.

In October 2001, the museum invited a Tibetan lama to perform a ceremony designed to protect the site from “misfortune and promote positive healing energies,” said museum spokesman Tim Hallman. He said the museum conducted another multifaith ceremony to ensure a successful observance just before it opened on March 20 last year.

“Knowing the site was a former cemetery, we felt it was important to acknowledge that and create a healthy, positive feeling about the space,” Mr. Hallman said. “It made us feel better about the situation.”

Since the opening, about 400,000 people have visited the museum, home to 15,000 pieces of Asian art worth an estimated $4 billion to $5 billion, and no one has expressed concerns about the site’s past, Mr. Hallman said.

Still, the museum likely will schedule another ceremony when it celebrates its first anniversary next month to bring closure to the site’s cemetery era, he said.

“We definitely want people to feel comfortable visiting the museum,” Mr. Hallman said. “Most people visit the museum to see the art. This is not a haunted mansion tour.”

Last year, the Cypress Lawn Cemetery offered to donate space to bury the remains. If city officials approve the offer, the remains will be buried in a vault in the cemetery’s Pioneer Garden, where 35,000 of the city’s first American residents are now buried, said Kenneth E. Varner, president of the Cypress Lawn Cemetery Association.

“We thought it was an appropriate gesture because of the cemetery’s historical ties to San Francisco,” Mr. Varner said. “Cypress Lawn is a repository for prominent San Franciscans and San Francisco’s pioneers.”

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