Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Old St. Mary's Cathedral

Old Saint Mary's Cathedral is a parish of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Francisco and is located on the corner of California Street and Grant Avenue in the China Town neighborhood.  It is designated as San Francisco Historical Landmark number 2, and as California State Historical Landmark number 810.

Old Saint Mary's was created in 1854, in the decade immediately following the California Gold Rush, and the subsequent boom in San Francisco's population. It has the distinction of being the first cathedral in California to be designed and built for use as a cathedral, though other church buildings had been used for this purpose prior to the creation of Old Saint Mary's.  Old Saint Mary's was used as a Catholic cathedral until 1891 when the growth of the religious community dictated a larger building.  A new cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, was built and Old Saint Mary's became a parish church.  Throughout its history, Old Saint Mary's has remained an active parish of the Catholic church and currently serves the China Town and Nob Hill communities.

Old Saint Mary's survived the 1906 earthquake relatively undamaged, but was totally gutted by fire a day later.  Only the walls and the clock tower remained after the fire was extinguished.  The church was completely restored by 1909 and had resumed its duties as an active parish.  Beginning in 1901 the church has been served by the Paulist Father's, an American Catholic organization, and members of this organization still serve the parish community today.

Fun Facts:
-The clock on the tower of Old Saint Mary's bears the inscription, "Son, observe the time and fly from evil" (Ecclesiasticus 4:23).  This statement was targeted at the men who frequented the brothels that surrounded the church in the first part of the 20th century.
-Emperor Norton, self-proclaimed Imperial Majesty, "Emperor of these United States", and celebrated San Francisco eccentric, collapsed on the steps of Old Saint Mary's in 1880.  He died before he could be given medical treatment, but he was so well known and loved within the community that the next day nearly 30,000 people filled the streets of San Francisco to publicly mourn his passing.

Getting There By Bike...
You can do it, but you have to climb some hills first.  Old Saint Mary's is located in the middle of China Town and, truth be told, I was window shopping and walking my bike up Grant when I found the church.  Grant is steep, California is even steeper, and if you have the legs to get up to the church then by all means do it.  I took the easy way out by people watching in China Town and pushing my bike up hill.

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