A Short History of Our Community
- Written by Jim Lucas
Published on 07 October 2006
Last Updated on 16 January 2014
The history of the Greek community in the San Francisco area is linked to the history of the city of San Francisco and reflects the pioneer spirit of California.
Greek immigration to California increased in the late 1880s following the Gold Rush, and by the turn of the century the San Francisco Call newspaper estimated that there were 2,000 Greeks living in the San Francisco Bay Area. In May 1892, members of the community founded the Hellenic Mutual Benevolent Society, the first known Greek organization founded in San Francisco. The Society would later take an active role in the establishment of a Greek Orthodox Church, the assembly of community events, and coordinated response efforts to tragic events occurring in Greece.
The Orthodox faith has had a presence in San Francisco since at least 1857, and the first Russian Orthodox church was founded in 1868. Prior to the establishment of their own parish Greeks worshipped at the Russian Church. At various periods, there were Greek priests at the Russian Orthodox Church servicing the needs of the Greek Orthodox faithful.
In 1902, the Hellenic Mutual Benevolent Society organized community meetings for the establishment of a Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco. In January 1903, the Greek Orthodox faithful elected trustees and sent for a priest. In April 1903, the community purchased land on the corner of 7th and Cleveland streets for $5,750. The size of the lot was later expanded by five feet and the purchase price increased to $6,000. Construction began and the structure was completed, simple furnishings were installed and the election of officers was held.
The community hired Father Constantine Tsapralis as their first priest. Fr. Tsapralis arrived in the United States May 19, 1903, and the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated December 25, 1903. Holy Trinity was incorporated March 23, 1904, making Holy Trinity the oldest Greek Orthodox Church west of Chicago and the eighth oldest church within the present day Archdiocese.
The church along with much of San Francisco was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire. Work began on a second church building not far from the original site in the fall of 1906. The new church was completed in 1907 and a language school, the first west of Chicago, was opened in 1912.
In 1908, the community experienced its first major schism which lead to the founding of another Greek Orthodox church. The schism started over a disagreement over parish council elections and the handling of money. The disagreement turned violent on July 12, 1908, when police were called to Holy Trinity. A faction led by Ioannis Kapsimalis (former parish council president and Greek Consul) decided to start their own church. They purchased land on Rincon Hill (Stanly Place/Sterling Place), built a church which they named St. John Prodromos (see photograph). They built offices and a meeting hall which they named the "Alexander the Great Meeting Hall." They hired Father Tsapralis as their first priest. The Holy Trinity community in turn hired Fr. Stefanos Macaronis as their next priest. In December 1909, the factions resolved their differences, the St. John Prodromos property was sold to Holy Trinity for $5, Fr. Tsapralis was rehired by Holy Trinity and Fr. Macaronis moved to a parish in Oregon. From 1910 until the church was raised to install a meeting hall in 1922, this property served as the offices and meeting hall for the community. The Stanly Place property was sold in 1936 to the State of California to make room for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
For several years Holy Trinity served as religious headquarters for the Greek Orthodox faithful of the entire western region. Its priests were kept busy administering to the needs of Orthodox Christians as far away as Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Most Greek Orthodox Christians throughout the West had their sacraments officiated by a priest from Holy Trinity.
During this time the Greek community settled in the area around Third Street in the area south of Market Street and this area became known as the center of the community. The rate of immigration from Europe reached massive proportions between 1900 and 1914 and by the 1920s there were at least ten thousand Greeks living in San Francisco area.
During this early period there were three Greek language newspapers published in San Francisco; Eirenikos, Prometheus, and the California. Anastasios Mountanos, the publisher of the California, became a well known figure within the Greek colony as a community leader and businessman. He was honored by the Greek government for his service to the community. Alexander Pavellas, the co-founder of Eirenikos and Prometheus, served as acting Greek consul during the 1910s.
Four priests who served at Holy Trinity were later elevated to the episcopacy. Father Kallistos Papageorgopulos became the first Bishop of San Francisco August 7, 1927. Father Philaretos loannides became the first bishop of Chicago in 1922 and later Metropolitan of Syros, Father Athenagoras Kavadas became the Bishop of Boston, and Father Irenaeos Kassimatis became the Bishop of South America. It is also important to note that in 1909 the King of Greece awarded Father Stefanos Macaronis the silver cross of the order of the chevalier and the Holy Savior.
The close relations between the colony's residents and their church were challenged constantly by the problems of growth. The community's expansion was speeded following the return of hundreds of volunteers from Greece at the conclusion of the Balkan wars. A growing number of parishioners complained that the community's progress did not seem to keep pace with its numerical growth. The community was also divided over politics in Greece. Some supported the liberal Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, while others remained loyal to King Constantine I.
Dissatisfaction increased, until a dissident group overwhelmingly Venizelist, broke away and began meeting to discuss the possibility of building another church. In June 1921, the dissidents purchased all the lots facing Pierce Street from Hayes to Fell Streets with the intent of building a cathedral church. They later built a small church, which they named Saint Sophia Cathedral. Father Philaretos Ioannides became their first priest.
During this time the center of Greek community life shifted to the Saint Sophia community. St. Sophia became the cathedral church for the San Francisco Diocese. Father Kallistos Papageorgopoulos became the first Bishop of San Francisco in August, 1927, and he utilized St. Sophia as the office of the San Francisco Diocese.
The St. Sophia community later became dissatisfied with their progress and wanted to move to a location closer to the center of the Greek community. They eventually voted to purchase the Valencia Street Theater in April, 1928, for $47,743. The community began using the building as a church in 1929.
On Nov. 16, 1929, the Daughters of Penelope was formally established in San Francisco by Alexandra Apostolides, a member of the St. Sophia community. In 1931, she became the organization's first Grand President. The first chapter, EOS #1, was called the "Mother Lodge Chapter". Within ten years Mrs. Apostolides established 96 chapters across the United States. Mrs. Apostolides impact on Greek women was profound throughout her life.
During the Depression, the St. Sophia community had an increasingly difficult time paying its debts. Bishop Kallistos moved to Chicago because the community could not afford to pay his salary. St. Sophia declared bankruptcy in 1935 and Bank of America filed an "Intent to Foreclose" in July 1935. Bank of America purchased St. Sophia in a foreclosure sale in December 1935. The Bank of Italy charged the community $100 per month rent until the community purchased the property back in December 1937. The community reorganized and was renamed “United Greek Orthodox Community of San Francisco, the Annunciation.”
An attempt was made to merge the two parishes in May 1936 and while Saint Sophia's members approved such a merger, Holy Trinity members voted against the merger. Over half of Holy Trinity’s members left and joined Annunciation. For a brief period immediately following the merger attempt Holy Trinity became an independent parish. Their membership numbers would remain low until the arrival of Fr. George Paulson in 1949. Fr. Paulson, the first American-born priest to serve at Holy Trinity, revitalized parish ministries and as a result, membership grew.
Three priests who served at Annunciation were later elevated to the episcopacy. Father Philaretos loannides became the first bishop of Chicago in 1922, Father Polykeftos Finfinis became the bishop of Pittsburg, and Father Meletios Tripodakis became the bishop of San Francisco.
During World War II the Greek community organized Greek War Relief efforts. Annunciation, through the use of a weekly radio hour, informed the community of local events and events overseas. Annunciation’s choir performed live radio concerts which were very popular.
In 1956, George Christopher was elected mayor of San Francisco. He was the first Greek-American to hold the position. Mayor Christopher had humble beginnings. He was the son of Greek immigrants who settled near Third Street. Through his leadership, the city and the Greek community progressed.
In the aftermath of World War II San Franciscans of all ethnic groups and all faiths began moving to outlying districts of the city or to suburban communities and many churches followed to better serve their congregations. Holy Trinity was among the congregations to relocate on Brotherhood Way. They sold their venerable church on Seventh Street to the newly established parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. Michael, and thus it continues to function uninterrupted as an Orthodox Church.
The Holy Trinity community purchased the site for their new church September 5, 1957 at a lively public auction administered by the City and County of San Francisco. Vacant land in the city was almost non existent and the auction attracted many real estate speculators who also participated in the auction, but Holy Trinity's bid of $44,300 accompanied by a fervent plea for no additional bidding by Fr. Anthony Kosturos was accepted and the property of eight and one-half acres became the site for the building of the new church. When purchased, the land was 35 feet deep and needed to be brought up to an acceptable building level. The land fill required for this project was donated by excavation contractors. Construction of the new church began on November 13, 1961 and was completed in October of 1963. The church was dedicated in November of that year with Bishop Demetrios of Olympos presiding. The first Divine Liturgy was held January 26, 1964.
In 1962 Annunciation was named Cathedral for the Metropolis of San Francisco. Later that year the Annunciation community acquired an adjacent apartment building. The building was razed to make way for the building of a new community center complex. In 1965 a major renovation of the sanctuary, auditorium, and classrooms was completed. In 1981 the Bausch and Lomb Optical Company building, located at 275 Valencia Street, became available and was purchased by the Cathedral, effectively giving the community 47,000 square feet of land. The plans were modified to accommodate, in part, the inclusion of this new acquisition.
In 1987, Art Agnos was elected mayor of San Francisco. He was the second Greek-American to hold the position. Mayor Agnos replaced Senator Dianne Feinstein by gathering 70% of the vote.
On October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck with a force of 7.1 on the Richter Scale. The City of San Francisco and the Bay Area were particularly hard hit by the earthquake. While the congregation of Annunciation Cathedral suffered no loss of life or personal injuries, the earthquake wreaked devastating damage to the Cathedral building. As a result, the Cathedral building was closed by the City, since structural engineers noted a portion was in imminent danger of collapse. The parishioners voted to demolish the church and to construct completely new facilities.
Given the general condition of the neighborhood, some people thought the Cathedral should relocate. Two years of searching for alternate site ensued. Noting the prohibitive costs of new locations and the desire of many to remain on Valencia Street, on March 3, 1991 the parishioners voted unanimously to rebuild on the same site. After considerable discussion on what to build first, the church or the facility, on May 12, 1992 the Parish Assembly voted to commence with construction of Phase I of the Master Plan, as modified, to include a 300-seat Chapel. a Multi-Purpose Hall, Kitchen, Classrooms, the Cathedral Offices at an approximate cost of $4.6 million. Ground for Phase I was broken on November 22, 1992.
In 1993, former San Francisco mayor George Christopher donated the George and Tula Christopher center to the Holy Trinity community. The building was completed in 1994. Named after the first Greek American Mayor of San Francisco, the center contains a professional sized basketball court, a fitness center locker rooms and showers, a library, a skills room, a craft room, audio room, and other facilities. The Center is utilized by the parish for numerous activities, as well as the Bay Area Orthodox Youth Athletic association.
In 2008, Holy Trinity began construction of the Pantocrator mosaic. When Holy Trinity relocated to Brotherhood Way in 1964, the Pantocrator, or icon of Christ, on the dome within the church was left to complete at some point in the future.
At a cost of $1.7 million dollars the Pantocrator mosaic will feature the largest mosaic face of Christ in the Western Hemisphere. The face measures 23 feet from the top of the forehead to the chin and was installed 75 feet above the Church floor. The interior dome will display an estimated 1.4 million individual, hand cut, glass mosaic tiles. The project was completed in May, 2008.
On October 9, 2013 the Annunciation Cathedral parish signed a contract with McNely Construction to build the sanctuary and to add underground parking for 45 spaces. The community was issued a building permit on October 17, 2013, the 24th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The project is expected to last 18 months.
Over one hundred years have passed since the founding of Holy Trinity in 1904. Our community has grown and evolved since those early days. Annunciation and Holy Trinity continue to serve the Greek community as we face future challenges.
Contents copyright : Jim Lucas & Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area