by Frank Dunnigan
As the winds of change swirl around us, some things just seem to stay the same—or do they? Mission Dolores, founded in 1776 and at its present location since 1791, looks relatively untouched, but in fact, numerous changes have been incorporated into the structure and its grounds over the last 230 years.
The original adobe Mission was built in 1776 at the corner of Camp and Albion Streets, about two blocks from the present location—and that original site is now marked by a ceremonial plaque. In 1791, a new structure (now known as 320 Dolores Street), was constructed, with founder Junipero Serra visiting the site. The building is now regarded by historians as San Francisco’s oldest intact structure—for although a portion of the building that now houses the Presidio Officers’ Club contains remnants of an early wall, those stones do NOT constitute an intact building. Mission Dolores became San Francisco Historical Landmark #1 when the program was established in 1967.
In addition to the adobe Mission church, there were additional facilities—dormitories, farm buildings, and cloth-manufacturing sites. By the early 1800s, the Indigenous Peoples population at the Mission peaked at more than 1,000 individuals, and by 1810, there was a vast enterprise underway with more than 22,000 cows and sheep, plus thousands of other farm animals grazing all the way from the Mission site to the present-day intersection of Mission & Cesar Chavez Streets.
Following the Gold Rush and California statehood, the adobe Mission and some adjacent lands, once “secularized” and acquired by the Mexican government after its War of Independence from Spain, were returned to the Catholic Church, with Mission Dolores again serving as a local place of worship. In 1876, on the 100th anniversary of the Mission’s founding, a new, larger, red-brick church was added at 16th & Dolores Streets, alongside the adobe structure, to serve an ever-growing population. Construction of the new brick church required the eventual demolition of several older buildings at the site.
The graveyard alongside the Mission came into use in the late 1700s. Indigenous peoples, early Spanish and Mexican families, as well as later-arriving Europeans and American-born individuals are all interred there, and the cemetery soon extended a full city block to present-day Church Street. In the 1880s, City government decided to extend 16th Street all the way to Market Street. During this project, a number of bodies on the that side of the cemetery were moved to new locations on the grounds, as well as into other cemeteries, in order to clear a path for the roadway. Even with various boundary changes over time, the cemetery remains one of San Francisco’s few burial locations—though no new interments have taken place there since pre-1900.
Over time, local government made many topographical changes in the area. In the late 1870s, the city re-graded Dolores Street, lowering the roadway by more than one foot, resulting in the addition of a set of entry stairs from the sidewalk to the front doors of the Mission. Records and photos also indicate that the cemetery’s front wall that once extended to a point forward of the Mission entryway, was pushed back at this time, with some bodies re-interred elsewhere within the grounds. In 1906, numerous cemetery artifacts were lost when refugees camping in nearby Dolores Park removed trees, wooden grave markers, and fences for use as firewood.
Following the 1906 earthquake, the damaged 1876 brick church at the corner of 16th Street and Dolores was demolished and a hastily-built wooden church, directly behind the old Mission, began serving community needs. In 1913, the cornerstone was laid for a new Mission Dolores Church which was completed five years later and dedicated at Christmas of 1918, with the 1906 wooden building removed.
In 1917, as the new church was nearing completion, the original adobe Mission underwent some unobtrusive upgrades, including installation of steel beams covered with cement, plus steel trusses beneath the roof (now known as “earthquake retrofitting”) under the direction of noted architect Willis Polk.
Elevated view over wall to cemetery on south side of Mission Dolores, circa 1868. (wnp71.1458; Lawrence & Houseworth, photographers – Martin Behrman Negative Collection / Courtesy of the Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives)
Numerous alterations to the cemetery have taken place over the last 230 years. In addition to city-administered reconfigurations to Dolores Street and to 16th Street in the 1870s and 1880s, cemetery land adjacent to tiny Chula Lane was cleared and eventually replaced with housing. A most significant change to the cemetery site came about in the mid-1920s, when many Sunday morning worshippers were beginning to arrive in automobiles, thus leading to parking congestion. Installation of a parking lot/schoolyard on a portion of the cemetery property was completed in 1924, while construction of a building for Chancery Department offices (since relocated to a new site near the present-day St. Mary’s Cathedral) was completed in the 1950s facing Church Street.
In 1926, the plain style of the 1918 church building was remodeled with a more elaborate design. Influenced by the architecture of San Diego’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a more distinctive ornamentation known as “churrigueresque” was added to the façade and one tower was extended in height. In 1952, Pope Pius XII elevated the status of the church building to that of a Basilica—a church of significant importance. It was the first Basilica located west of the Mississippi River, and one of only five in the United States at that time.
Mission Dolores experienced a bit of world-wide fame when Alfred Hitchcock used the setting for a scene in his 1958 film Vertigo. Visitors often comment that the cemetery looks very different from its appearance in the Hitchcock film. That’s because Hollywood superimposed images of more elaborate grave markers during production.
From 1962, when St. Mary’s Cathedral on Van Ness Avenue was destroyed in an arson fire, until the 1971 dedication of the present St. Mary’s Cathedral at Geary & Gough, Mission Dolores temporarily served as a replacement church for large ceremonies held by the Archdiocese.
In 1976, anticipating increased tourism for celebrations of the U.S. Bicentennial–also the 200-year anniversary of the Mission’s founding–the gift shop at the northwest front corner of the old adobe was expanded, impacting the cemetery slightly, with some grave markers relocated, but with bodies left undisturbed.
Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, further architectural strengthening, interior cleaning, and graveyard restorations took place as part of a $2 million program. During this mid-1990s project, more than a ton of adobe dust was gathered from the attic and used in patching cracks. Work included cleaning—but NOT repainting—interior surfaces, a slow process designed to remove accumulated soot from 200 years of burning candles and incense. At the same time, many cemetery markers were restored and the grounds replanted with species that were historically accurate to the late 1700s.
Today, Mission Dolores is one of San Francisco’s most-visited historical destinations, while it remains a place of sacred worship. Parishioners still have the option of having their baptisms, weddings, and funerals conducted either in the Basilica or in the adobe Mission. Governor Gavin Newsom’s young children were among those baptized in the old adobe building early in this millennium. Original records documenting such events date back to 1776 remain onsite in a fireproof vault, attesting to the continuity of community at one of San Francisco’s earliest settlements.
NOTE: The author is grateful to Andrew Galvan, Mission Dolores Curator since 2003, for his research assistance. Mr. Galvan has a unique connection to the spot because one set of his great-great-great-great-grandparents, members of the Ohlone community, were baptized at Mission Dolores in 1794 and 1802 respectively, as part of a family group that entered into Christianity while other family members chose traditional Indigenous Peoples’ ways for themselves and their descendants.
While there are many significant issues related to the treatment of Indigenous Peoples by the Mission system in general, such a topic requires far more in-depth analysis than is possible here in a mere snapshot of land and building uses at the site.
See more than 800 additional Mission Dolores images here on OpenSFHistory.org.
From the Summer of Love to the present day, San Francisco has been a musical focal point spawning many great musicians and becoming the center of an emerging social and political conscience in the music scene. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he served in the Navy, native San Franciscan Greg Gaar became a photojournalist and began documenting the local cultural and natural landscape. Among his subjects was the Bay Area music landscape and from 1972 to 1989, he took thousands of photos of many bands at many venues. The OpenSFHistory.org image archive now includes over 1000 of these indelible Greg Gaar music photos, that are searchable by artist, venue, or date. To get you started, I’m highlighting ten of my favorites from these images.
The San Francisco Blues Festival was one of the longest running blues festivals in the country occurring annually from 1973 to 2008. The second SF Blues Fest featured, among others, local blues legend K.C. Douglas, who had been performing since the late 1940s. At the foot of the stage, Gaar got this amazing shot of Douglas framed by the half-dome of the bandshell, metaphorically placing Douglas with the blues gods.
In addition to the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia also had an eponymously-named band that he initially just performed with, but later also recorded with. On Labor Day 1974, the Jerry Garcia Band was still in its nascent stages when they performed–I assume for free–in Marx Meadow. In addition to the musicians, they had dancer Renee LeBallister groove on stage with them. In this perfectly timed and placed photo, LeBallister arms appear to be an extension of Garcia and his guitar. It’s as if the energy from Garcia’s guitar is lifting LeBallister’s leg as high as it can go.
Because of financial issues, San Francisco schools announced in early 1975 that budget cuts would require the elimination of some after school clubs and sports. Bill Graham was having none of that and organized a fund-raising concert at Kezar Stadium called Students Need Activities, Culture, and Kicks, S.N.A.C.K. for short. The show featured local favorites like the Grateful Dead, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, the Doobie Brothers, and Tower of Power. However, the highlight was a one-time only collaboration of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and The Band. Among the many images Gaar took at this show is this one of Dylan and Young singing together during their set.
In early 1975, Queen was riding high with their first U.S. top 40 hit, Killer Queen, from their third album, Sheer Heart Attack. In January of that year, they began their first U.S. headlining tour. When they came to San Francisco in March, Bill Graham booked them into his Winterland venue. Queen shows were noted for Freddie Mercury’s flamboyant outfits and frequent costume changes. At the Winterland show, Gaar caught this “angelic” moment from Mercury.
Later, in December 1975, Frank Zappa also came to Winterland. Zappa’s music spanned genres and his stage shows with the Mothers of Invention incorporated experimentation and improvisation like few other bands could. Zappa was also noted for the frequent satirical nature of his lyrics. Although this is an image and not a sound recording, Gaar captured the spirit of Zappa perfectly in this photo.
David Bowie’s stage persona and music in the early days were an ever-evolving rapture of styles from the acoustic folk rock of Major Tom to the glam rock of Ziggy Stardust. With the release of Station to Station in 1976, Bowie entered the Thin White Duke phase of his career. The subsequent tour featured a sparsely lit stage that created a lounge atmosphere even in large venues. This image that Gaar took of Bowe lit by one spotlight has a moonlight quality to it that perfectly illustrates the Thin White Duke.
If you’ve never experienced the glorious insanity of a Tubes show, this Gaar image gets you pretty close. During shows, lead singer Fee Waybill adopted various identities and costumes and films for each song were displayed on a live video feed. Here, we see Waybill as his alter ego, Quay Lewd, surrounded by costumed dancers, perhaps performing their then hit, White Punks On Dope, if the pill-covered costume of one of the dancers is any indication. The band became a cult favorite with these extravagant shows.
In 1973, Bill Graham held the first of his Day on the Green shows at the Oakland Coliseum, featuring multiple musical acts. Over the next 20 years, these Days on the Green were a summer music staple of the Bay Area. In 1976, there were 10 Day on the Green productions, culminating in two nights with The Who and the Grateful Dead on October 9th and 10th. Gaar was there to capture this image of Pete Townshend flying high with Keith Moon and his drum set framed beneath him. To the left, Roger Daltrey with some tambourines looks like he has just walked off the Tommy movie set. This exquisitely encapsulates the energy of The Who.
How much rock royalty can you get to perform on one stage together? At their Last Waltz Winterland concert, The Band brought together numerous legendary friends for the show that was being filmed by Martin Scorsese. Gaar was there for the show and shot this picture of, from left to right, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Rick Danko, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Robbie Robertson. Scorsese’s film, The Last Waltz, would become one of the most critically-acclaimed music documentaries of all time.
On June 8, 1979, punk legends, the Ramones, showed up at San Francisco’s Civic Center to put on a free show. Known for their fast, short songs, the Ramones ripped their way through 27 songs in front of City Hall to a delighted crowd. At one point, some balloons got released and Gaar caught the moment with the band and their backdrop, making for an ironic photo. An anti-establishment band in front of the local seat of government as a ceremonial balloon release happens. We don’t really know why the balloons were released–it could have been accidental–but the juxtaposition in this photo is lovely.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short visit through the Greg Gaar music photos that have been newly added to OpenSFHistory.org. There are plenty more in the collection, so take a deep dive and enjoy.
by Arnold Woods
Eamon de Valera was the Taoiseach (Prime Minister and head of government) of Ireland from 1937 to 1948 when his party lost the election and he became the leader of the largest opposition party. Although de Valera, who led Ireland even before the 1937 Constitution that made him Taoiseach, was no longer in charge, he still wanted to use his influence on the pressing issue of partition. He therefore set off on a world tour to seek support on the issue. The first stop was the United States, which included San Francisco.
When de Valera arrived aboard the “Arkansas Queen,” American Airlines’ flagship plane, on Friday, March 12, 1948, he was met by a crowd of about 200 people.1 An official welcoming committee that included Ireland’s local consul, Patrick Hughes and local Irish politico George Reilly, was there to greet him. Others there included local Catholic priests, prominent Irish San Franciscans, and some of de Valera’s army comrades who fought alongside him in the Irish revolutionary and civil wars.
Working his way through the crowd shaking hands, de Valera stopped to warmly greet Reverend Ralph Hunt, the pastor at St. Peter’s Church and successor to Peter C. Yorke, the noted Irish-American priest and Irish Republican and Labor activist, who died in 1925. After making his way through the crowd, de Valera was taken to a limousine and driven to the Hotel Whitcomb where he held a press conference.
Before the press, de Valera reported that conditions in Ireland were good and defended his country’s neutrality in World War II.2 It wasn’t long though before de Valera got to his main topic. He blamed the partition of Ireland on “devious British gerrymandering” and stated that the six counties of Northern Ireland were not governed “in accordance with the wishes of a majority of the people.”
After the press conference, de Valera headed to City Hall for a reception with civic leaders. San Francisco mayor Elmer Robinson presented him with a gold key to the City that was inscribed in both English and Gaelic. It was the second key to the City he had received as Mayor James Rolph had given him one during a 1930 visit. Mayor Robinson said the second key was in case de Valera had “misplaced” the first one and that it showed that “the hospitality of San Francisco is yours, as it always will be.” De Valera gave thanks to “those who gave us such effective help…in the struggle for freedom.”
The whirlwind first day was followed by a morning mass at St. Joseph’s church on Howard Street. De Valera then lunched with the St. Joseph’s clergy, had another press conference, and then a meeting with Irish Freedom League officials. On Sunday, March 14, 1948, de Valera served as the grand marshal of San Francisco’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. In a car with Mayor Robinson and California Governor Earl Warren, they led the parade down Market Street to City Hall.3 A crowd estimated at 100,000 celebrated along the route. That night at the Civic Auditorium, de Valera, stating that he was speaking for the Irish people although he was no longer their leader, again thanked San Francisco for its “moral and material support for the Irish cause since 1919.” He again condemned Britain for the partition of Ireland.
On March 16, 1948, de Valera gave a speech before the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco at the St. Francis Hotel. The theme of the speech was a denouncement of partition. De Valera declared that “[our] aim in Ireland is to end partition. But so long as British forces occupy part of Ireland it is impossible for us to be friends.” Afterwards, de Valera left for Los Angeles to attend St. Patrick’s Day festivities there. He was greeted at the Los Angeles airport by Irish actress Maureen O’Hara, an old friend of his.4
De Valera returned to San Francisco in time for the annual Palm Sunday memorial rites for Father Peter Yorke at St. Peter’s Church and a pilgrimage to his grave at Holy Cross Cemetery on March 21, 1948. Throughout his time in San Francisco, de Valera was a hit with the local Irish. He would become a hit again in the home country, serving two more terms as Ireland’s Taoiseach in the 1950s. He then served Ireland as president, winning two terms. He was 84 years old at the time of his second presidential win in 1966, a record for an elected head of state until 2013. He finally retired in 1973 at the age of 90.
Enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day this year!
1. “De Valera Welcomed,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 13, 1948, p. 1.
2. “De Valera Gets Greeting From Big S.F. Crowd,” San Francisco Examiner, March 13, 1948, pp. 1, 3.
3. “Parade for St. Patrick,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 1948, p. 1.
4. “New Rawlings Play for Jeannette MacDonald,” San Francisco Examiner, March 16, 1948, p. 13.
March 8, 2021 marks the 155th anniversary of the passage of what was colloquially known as the Outside Lands Act of 1866. Before the act, San Francisco’s western border was at approximately Divisidero Street. Under this legislation, the federal government ceded the Outside Lands to San Francisco and the western border was extended to the Pacific Ocean. To celebrate the 155th anniversary of an “enlarged” San Francisco, we’re taking a look at our Top Ten images showing what the City looked like in 1866.
We start by looking down 2nd Street from Market in June 1866. The street is lined with shops and signs can be seen for dry goods and a dentist. What we like is the sight of all the horse-drawn carriages parked like cars on each side of the street. In the background, you can see many buildings atop Rincon Hill. At this point, San Francisco is officially 16 years old as a California city and this south of Market area is clearly bustling.
Northeast of Rincon Hill once stood the Selby Shot Tower. Built by Thomas Selby, who would later become mayor, the shot tower was used to produce spherical gunshot. Located at 1st and Howard Streets, it was a well-known landmark in 1866.
Along the southern waterfront in 1866, we see a mass of docks and ships in the Mission Bay area with Telegraph Hill in the background. In the early days of the City, ships were often abandoned at the docks after arrival. Some ships became part of the landfill as San Francisco “expanded” in the waterfront area. Close to 20 years after the Gold Rush of 1848, many ships were still arriving in 1866.
We head north to Portsmouth Square, which predates the State of California. When San Francisco was under Mexican rule, they established it as a public gathering spot and it became an official plaza in 1835, in effect, the first public park in the City. The plaza hosted the first Admission Day ceremony in 1850 when California became a state. As seen here in 1866, it had been landscaped into a beautiful park.
Filling an entire city block bounded by Montgomery, Bush, Kearny & Pine Streets stood the Russ House, the first of San Francisco’s grand hotels in 1866. Built by Christian Russ, who made his fortune with a jewelry store and assay office, it was completed in 1862. It would be replaced in 1927 by the Russ Building, a 32-story office tower that was the tallest building in San Francisco upon its completion until 1964.
Much of the most crowded part of San Francisco in 1866 was along the waterfront as seen here from Broadway and Montgomery Streets. In the foreground, you can see some Carpenter Gothic homes. It would be over 70 years before the Bay Bridge would span the Bay to Yerba Buena Island seen in the background.
Nob Hill was well-settled by 1866 as this image looking north from Market Street near Powell Street shows. In the distance in the center, you can see the grand Temple Emanu-El on Sutter near Powell. It was completed in 1864 to serve a mostly German Jewish community in the City. The fires after the 1906 earthquake would damage the inside of the Temple, but it would get rebuilt and remain in service until a new Temple on Lake Street was dedicated in 1926.
In 1853, three San Francisco women formed the Ladies Protection and Relief Society to help less fortunate women. About 10 years later, they began building a care home at Franklin and Geary Streets. Completed in April 1864, this is what it looked like in 1866. Before the Outside Lands Act of 1866, this was close to the western boundry of the City.
So what of the west side of San Francisco newly added in 1866? There was little to be found then. In this image looking south along Ocean Beach from the Cliff House, there are no buildings and no Golden Gate Park. There is nothing but sand and scrub brush for as far as the eye can see. At this point in time, San Francisco was still four years away from even beginning to build the Park, much less starting to see the results of tree and grass planting.
Speaking of the Cliff House, it was one of the few operating businesses in the Outside Lands in 1866, having opened three years earlier. Senator John Buckley and C.C. Butler build this Cliff House and leased it to Junius G. Foster. The Point Lobos Toll Road opened a year later making the Cliff House a popular weekend destination. Soon the beach waterfront would begin to be built up as San Franciscans flocked to the ocean waterfront that was now within city limits. However, in 1866, it was still mostly just a vast sandy expanse.
Many of the above images were sold by George Lawrence and Thomas Houseworth, who ran an “optical” shop in San Francisco. Like many, they came to California for the Gold Rush before settling in San Francisco. They began acquiring and selling stereographs in 1859. We hope you’ve enjoyed this trip back in time as we celebrate the 155th anniversary of San Francisco’s extension to sea in 1866.