Chapel of Our Lady (credit: presidio.gov)
While our forefathers were framing the nation’s most important paperwork back east in Philadelphia, things were quite different out west in the final quarter of the 18th century. Not a powdered wig or shiny brass shoe buckle were anywhere in sight as Spanish-born men of the cloth sought to establish the first Franciscan missionaries from Baja to Alta California. We pause to look at San Francisco’s five oldest standing churches.
49 Moraga Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94129
The past few years have seen lots of renovation in the pine-scented Presidio, and there’s more to come. The Main Post is the historic heart of the former Spanish garrison established in 1776. It fell into Mexican hands and then to the U.S. military in 1846. Adjacent to the Officer’s Club, the chapel dates to a mid-Civil War founding in 1864. Popular for weddings, memorials, christenings and ceremonies, it has a capacity of 200 and can be booked up to two years in advance. Features include three glass walls, stained glass, exposed beams, garden views and pews in a non-denominational simple and elegant white chapel.
3321 16th St.
San Francisco, CA 94114
Classified as San Francisco’s oldest surviving structure, the active parish dates back to June 29, 1776. The Dolores name derives from the nearby creek named Arroyo de los Dolores, or “Creek of Sorrows.” Spanish Franciscan Father Junípero Serra established 21 missions in a chain along the California coast during the 18th century, endeavoring to convert thousands of natives, and that he did. Visitors may tour the interior, cemetery and the garden most days between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
1187 Franklin St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
See an early surviving example (1889) in Richardson Romanesque style from the most prominent architectural team of Victorian-era San Francisco, Percy & Hamilton. Although the square turret replaces the original bell tower lost in the 1906 earthquake, the building with an active congregation is otherwise mainly unaltered. The congregation “was inspired by the ministry of Thomas Starr King.” A statue of Rev. King (who led the congregation from 1860-1864), credited with preventing California from succession during Civil War days, is in Golden Gate Park. This community is still active and visitors are welcome.
3261 23rd St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Also known as Iglesia Presbiteriana de la Misión, the church was built in 1892 in the Romanesque style by Percy & Hamilton, natives of Maine. The highly respected architects’ work was mostly lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire, so we are lucky to have this weathered example from the days when this neighborhood was a well-to-do semi-suburban enclave. The church is a San Francisco Landmark and has a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
2107 Lyon St.
San Francisco, CA 94115
This Pacific Heights gem is a local landmark, named to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its 1895 construction. The plaque outside pays tribute to one of the West Coast’s earliest examples of the Arts & Crafts architectural style. Consisting of three buildings with an inner garden, the site has changed little over more than a century. It is still an active church and congregation and a favorite for weddings. The philosophy is based on the works of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a Swedish scientist, inventor and theologian.
Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things in her adopted San Francisco. A dedicated urbanite, she’s a transplanted New Yorker by way of a couple of decades in London as a hotel sales and marketing manager. Follow her work on @ReferencePlease, USA Today, Yahoo! and on Examiner.com.