Remember… There’s a San Francisco Target Built on a Cemetery

Target is, presumably, only second to Walmart in large retail corporations detested by the City of San Francisco.

SF’s first Target store opened a decade ago in 2012, also called a “CityTarget” back then, at the Metreon. Ten years later, this location has become the butt of shoplifting jokes and a source for conservative media outlets to wax dystopian on all things San Francisco.

This location, which denounced rumors it was shuttering in 2021, now closes at 8 p.m., instead of 10 p.m.; it once closed as early as 6 p.m. due to shoplifting concerns earlier this year.

San Francisco’s second Target — the store at the southwest corner of Geary and Masonic streets — opened in October of 2013, a year after the Metreon location began welcoming customers. But many Target runners still remain oblivious to the fact that this Anza Vista shop was built atop a 19th-century grave.

When construction workers began working on a parking lot at the City Center shopping complex (where the latter Target store is located) on Geary Boulevard, between Masonic Avenue and Lyon Street, peculiar items began popping up. No, these were not rocks, nor fossilized remains of prehistoric fauna. These peculiarities that were dug proved to be dozens of grave markers and cut stones. Surprised and unaffected, the workers methodically stacked all the unearthed headstones and granite curbs, which were used to mark the grave, in piles for an on-site archeologist to record.

According to OpenSFHistory, the area where the City Center shopping complex was built had once been part of the Roman Catholic Calvary Cemetery. The grave was operated from 1860 to 1940; John Riley, a pauper, was the first to be buried there in November of 1860. During its 80 years, predominantly Roman Catholics were laid to rest on this side of Lone Mountain where the cemetery was situated. After it ceased operations, the estimated 40,000 bodies buried there were removed entirely and moved to Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma over the course of several years. 

However, many of the headstones and grave markers weren’t transported — which caused some surprises over 150 years later when they were unearthed by construction workers. Holy Cross Castrol Cemetery later agreed to take the stones and abandoned memorials.

(Fun fact about the Holy Cross Castrol Cemetery: Built on top of a potato farm in 1887, this 300-acre graveyard is both the oldest and largest cemetery established in Colma — and, to this day, continues burying bodies sent from San Francisco.)

In 1901, the City of San Francisco banned new burials within the city limits; San Francisco has since also removed all of its four major cemeteries established before World War II; this is why Colma has earned the nickname “city of the dead” or the “city of souls,” because of the influx of buried bodies coming from San Francisco since the 20th century; the 2-square-mile city now homes 1.5 million dead bodies — roughly twice the amount of San Francisco’s living population.

The next time you need to do a Target run at the City Center location in San Francisco, don’t forget to pay your rushed respects to the thousands of San Franciscans who were peacefully laid to rest well over a century… before jackhammers disturbed their eternal solace.

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