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Streetwise: Changing Houses of Worship

by Frank Dunnigan
July 2023

Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -
Two years ago, a Streetwise column for OpenSFHistory outlined some of the many closed, merged, changed, and repurposed houses of worship from over the years in many San Francisco neighborhoods. Thanks to eagle-eyed readers and the vast WNP and OSFH photo archives, there are numerous other houses of worship that have undergone significant changes, mergers, or have completely disappeared from the local landscape over the years. Here are some of them from the western neighborhoods.
Am Tikvah Temple on Brotherhood Way, December 9, 2022 - Courtesy of Arnold Woods.
AM TIKVAH CONGREGATION — Formed through a 1969 merger of Temple Beth Israel on Geary Boulevard near Fillmore Street and Temple Judea, founded in Daly City in the 1950s, the congregation on Brotherhood Way was known for 50+ years as Beth Israel-Judea (originally with a hyphen and later without the hyphen to emphasize unity of the two original groups). In 2022, the congregation renamed itself Am Tikvah (translated as “People of Hope”) following a 2021 merger with Congregation B’nai Emunah, founded in 1949, that had been located at 46th Avenue and Taraval since 1976. Read the story of B’nai Emunah’s emotional farewell to the old synagogue at 46th & Taraval, as well as the story of the two synagogues that merged to form Beth Israel Judea.

First United Presbyterian Church, from a Sunstream Homes Sales Brochure, 1950s - Courtesy of the Prelinger Library.
FIRST UNITED PRESBYTERIAN — First United Presbyterian Church in San Francisco (FUPC) was established on January 7, 1866. The church operated from many different locations over the years, and its membership grew, particularly in the years following World War I. In 1949, property was purchased on Sloat Boulevard near several growing subdivisions, and the current church was dedicated in November of 1952. By 1979, the church expanded to include a Taiwanese worship service, with an expanded English ministry in the 1990s, and a new Mandarin ministry in the 2010s.

Holy Name Catholic Church, May 27, 2005 - WNP Collection.
HOLY NAME CHURCH — To meet the needs of those living in the expanding Sunset District, Holy Name Parish was created in 1925 in the area that had originally been part of St. Anne of the Sunset Parish. Operating from a temporary structure for the first 16 years, a permanent church was built at the corner of 40th Avenue & Lawton Street in 1941, along with a parish school. By the 1960s, overcrowding became a serious issue and in 1964, the present church building was dedicated with increased capacity — the first Catholic church in San Francisco built to the new guidelines established by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Holy Name was the first Catholic parish in San Francisco to establish a preschool in 2011 under the leadership of a local resident, Director Alice Ho Seher.

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church at 37 Sterling Street near Bryant, April 4, 1919 - Photo by Horace Chaffee, SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
HOLY TRINITY GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH — Following the 1906 earthquake and fire, a group of congregants from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox, founded in 1904, split and established themselves at 37 Sterling Street in 1908 under the name St. John Prodromos. Differences were resolved by the end of 1909 and the new St. John Prodromos group sold this building to Holy Trinity for the sum of $5 and rejoined the original congregation. This property was later sold to the State of California in 1936 for construction of the Bryant Street onramp to the Bay Bridge. The reunited Holy Trinity congregation continued to operate at 345 Seventh Street for many years, when the surrounding neighborhood was known as Greektown. In the post-World War II era, Holy Trinity, like many San Francisco religious congregations, followed its members to West of Twin Peaks. A new Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church was opened on Brotherhood Way, where it remains the oldest Greek Orthodox congregation west of the Mississippi. See the present Holy Trinity building, opened in 1964.

Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Cathedral, May 1972 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
HOLY VIRGIN RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL — The cathedral on Geary Boulevard near 26th Avenue replaced the previous building in the Western Addition. Construction of the new cathedral began in 1961 and was completed in 1965. The earlier building at 858-864 Fulton Street between Fillmore and Webster was constructed in 1876-80 in a German Gothic style for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. It was acquired by the Russian Orthodox Church circa 1930 and is still owned and maintained by the Holy Virgin congregation.

Park Presidio Baptist Church, 1951 - SF Assessors Office Negatives / WNP Collection.
PARK PRESIDIO BAPTIST CHURCH — Built for Zion Lutheran Church, this 1908 wood Gothic structure was originally on the northwest corner of 9th Avenue and Anza Street. It was sold to the Park Presidio Baptist Church in 1950 and moved to its current site at 10th Avenue & Cabrillo. See this building’s 1950 move-in-progress in the San Francisco Public Library Historical photo archive.

Park Presidio United Methodist Church, 1908 - Courtesy of David Carr, PPUMC.
PARK PRESIDIO UNITED METHODIST CHURCH — Expansion and extensive renovations over the years helped to expand the church’s 1908 structure at 7th Avenue and Geary Boulevard, shown here. The arched-window portion of the building is now at the back of the property (the adjacent house on 7th Avenue remains in place today), and a large addition was built at the right, extending forward to the property line along Geary. While the larger space served the congregation well for many years, smaller attendance in recent times has shifted the place of worship to the parish house, just a few feet west of the main church building.

Randolph & Ramsell Streets, September 5, 1959 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
PILGRIM COMMUNITY CHURCH — Ocean View Community Church began in 1890 in the OMI neighborhood on Plymouth Avenue. By 1894, it became known as the Ocean View Congregational Church of San Francisco. As the membership grew, a larger church was needed and the present building at 400 Randolph Street was opened in 1951. Now known as Pilgrim Community Church-United Church of Christ, the congregation shared its space for several years with First Samoan Congregational Christian Church, while that group’s new building was under construction on nearby Sagamore Street.

Fundraising flyer for the new building of the Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1929 - Courtesy of Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church.
SEVENTH AVENUE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH — Founded as Cumberland Presbyterian Church in downtown San Francisco in 1892, the congregation soon grew to 132 members, though by 1903 it had declined to only 7 active participants. A new pastor attracted an increase in membership, and in 1905, the community purchased property on 7th Avenue in the Inner Sunset. Construction at the new site began and reached completion in 1907. By the 1920s, with a membership of more than 300, the original building was expanded into the form we see today, with work completed in 1929. Financial difficulties surfaced during the Depression years, but those were overcome, and by the late 1950s, debts had been paid off and membership exceeded 400, though the lure of suburban living began to draw away many individuals and families by 1975. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused serious damage to the building, though that has long since been repaired, and membership has again risen to 100+. Until the 1960s when it was removed, the church had a large neon-lighted cross with the church’s name, extending perpendicular from the building near the left-side entry doors, and dating back to the 1920s, as shown in this SFPL image.

Geary & 23rd Avenue, 1950s - Courtesy of Jack Tillmany.
ST. MONICA-ST. THOMAS THE APOSTLE PARISH — St. Monica Parish was established in 1911, with two temporary church locations. The present structure on Geary Boulevard near 23rd Avenue in the Richmond District was dedicated in 1918, and has been expanded over the years. By the 1960s, St. Monica was one of the largest parishes in San Francisco — home to more than 4,000 registered parish households — though by the time of its centennial in 2011, that number had been reduced to just 400. In recognition of this change, the Archdiocese merged St. Monica Parish with nearby St. Thomas the Apostle Parish (which itself was a spin-off from St. Monica in 1922 and was also experiencing a similar decline in membership in this millennium). On January 1, 2017, both parishes were officially dissolved and a new “St. Monica-St. Thomas the Apostle Parish” was created, with both church buildings remaining open and operational under the leadership of a single pastor and administrative staff. In June 2023, St. Thomas the Apostle School, part of the St. Monica-St. Thomas the Apostle parish, and in operation for 75 years at 40th & Balboa, closed its doors due to declining enrollment, with many students transferring to St. Monica School, shown here.

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