Colma, California

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Colma is a small incorporated town in San Mateo County, California, at the southern 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]

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