The Italian Cemetery is the offspring of La Società Italiana di Mutua Beneficenza, the oldest continuously existing Italian-American organization in the United States.
Founded in 1858, the function of the Società was to provide medical care and death benefits to a membership largely made up of Italian immigrants who came to San Francisco during the Gold Rush era.
Although burial services had always been a part of the equation, it was not until 1899 that the Società was able to establish a cemetery of its own. Most of these immigrants lived in San Francisco, but when the city enacted a policy of relocating burial grounds outside its limits, the new Italian Cemetery was set up, along with many others, in the little town of Colma. Although the funds to establish the cemetery came from the Società, and its first concern was to provide a service to its members, the cemetery has always welcomed people of all faiths and nationalities. Many are drawn by their feeling of kinship with the Italian Cemetery’s old-world ambience. Also, as Italians inter-married, they brought in spouses and relatives from other cultures.
The first building on the property, completed in 1904, was the Porporato Mausoleum, designed by San Francisco architect John A. Porporato. Its purpose was to provide a chapel for committal services. It was the first indoor mausoleum in Colma and one of the very first in the entire country. The crypts are faced in beautiful Carrara marble and the mausoleum is graced with colorful stained glass with floral design.
Made up largely of Italian immigrants, the historical North Beach district of San Francisco served as the headquarters of the Società until 1962, when the Società relocated to the grounds of the cemetery in Colma. In 1978, the Italian Cemetery was reorganized under the laws of the State of California as an independent non-profit, public-benefit corporation.
In the meantime, the development of new mausoleums and new areas for ground burials has continued. The Cemetery now offers entombments in nine indoor and outdoor mausoleums locations. Construction of additional mausoleums is currently being planned.
Recently, the town of Colma has renovated the old F Street roadbed, creating an old-fashioned red-brick thoroughfare, complete with elegant turn-of-century street lamps.
Through the years, the Italian Cemetery has developed into an integral part of the vibrant and ethnically-diverse Bay Area community.