July 23, 1854: Calvary is founded. A committee, chaired by San Francisco Mayor C.K. Garrison, called Dr. William Anderson Scott to be the organizing pastor and set about raising funds to build what was then the largest Protestant church on the west coast. The building was constructed on the north side of Bush Street, between Montgomery and Sansome (where the Mills building is today) and dedicated on January 14, 1855. As that area became all-commercial and the city expanded westward, the church decided to build a new and even larger building “way out” on Powell Street, in the new residential district around Union Square.
Calvary Presbyterian Church at Powell Street and Geary Blvd, Union Square
May 16, 1869: Dedication of second church building on Union Square. Calvary was moved to the corner of Powell Street and Geary Blvd. (where the St. Francis Hotel is today). By 1900 this too became a commercial area, and another move to the west—to the newly developing Pacific Heights residential area—was agreed upon. This time, the church sold its land, but not its building. All the pews, metal balcony supports, much woodwork and over one million bricks were moved to become part of the current sanctuary at 2515 Fillmore Street.
Calvary Presbyterian Church Opens at Fillmore Street and Jackson Street, November 1902
Thanksgiving 1902: First worship service in Fillmore Street church (a fortuitous move!) The cornerstone at the new location was laid on July 4, 1902, the first service was on Thanksgiving 1902 and the formal dedication was on Feb. 7, 1904—just 26 months before the 1906 earthquake and fire which all but destroyed the Union Square area.
April 18, 1906: Un-damaged Calvary serves the community after the Great Earthquake. Neither the quake nor the subsequent fire—which did not spread to this neighborhood—damaged Calvary’s building. Over the subsequent months, Calvary hosted many community meetings and was the temporary home of St. Luke’s Episcopal, Old First Presbyterian and Temple Emanu-el. The basement was turned into a court room for the Superior Court.
1928: The Sanctuary was enlarged to accommodate the new larger Aelian pipe organ; the custom Swain & Kates organ currently has 110 ranks and 6,155 pipes.
September 29, 1963: Dedication of Calvary’s library and the Kit Stewart Chapel, complete with faceted stained glass windows and large frescoes of reformation leaders by Lucienne Bloch (who learned the craft from Diego Rivera).
1978: Calvary’s sanctuary is placed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the registry of San Francisco of Historical Landmarks
1980: The newly-designed education building is completed, replacing the original 1902 structure which had become unsafe and outdated.
1988: Calvary completes a major renovation of its sanctuary—including new lighting, sound system, safety features, carpeting, new organ console, addition of a rank of exposed organ pipes, and restoration of stained glass windows on the south side.
2002: Major seismic, ADA and renovation work is completed, including the construction of additional classroom and meeting space and a new atrium (exposing some of the original 1868 bricks).
2004: Calvary celebrates its 150th Anniversary with year-long events, “Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future.”
2008: Calvary’s labyrinth, one of only a few around the Bay Area, is created in the lower level.
2012: Calvary goes green! Calvary has made substantial efforts to replace church lighting with state-of-the-art energy efficient bulbs. Several years ago, the church’s Green Team worked with SF Energy Watch, a city incentive program, to replace over 250 lights, resulting in a significant energy use reduction. In October 2012 almost all of the remaining lights in the church facilities were replaced with new technology LED bulbs. In addition, Calvary has implemented a successful waste reduction program in which landfill waste has been reduced by over two-thirds.
2013: Calvary has begun a much-needed restoration and conservation of the stain-glassed windows and is evaluating the deteriorating state of the coating that was applied on top of the original Tenino sandstone. To see the beautiful stone, check out the southeast corner of the main building, from which the coating has been removed as a preliminary test.
A collection of professional photographs chronicling the interior and exterior evolution of Calvary’s Sanctuary can be found in Calvary’s atrium. If you are interested in learning more about Calvary’s history, contact our historian, Joe Beyer, 415.346.3832.