Our Story

Calvary Presbyterian Church at Powell Street and Geary Blvd, Union Square

A Rich History

Calvary formally organized as a congregation in July 1854 with 63 members, including the mayor of
San Francisco. Our first location was on Bush Street, between Sansome and Montgomery; Calvary
was relocated to Union Square five years later.

In February 1904, the Calvary congregation began worshiping in the sanctuary at our current
location on the corner of Fillmore and Jackson Streets. The building survived the 1906 earthquake
and, in 1978, was entered into the National Registry of Historic Places and named as a San
Francisco Landmark.

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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

1869

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.

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Thanksgiving 1902

Calvary opens on Fillmore

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.

1906

Undamaged Calvary serves community after 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.

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1928

Sanctuary Enlarged

The Sanctuary was enlarged to accommodate the new larger Aeolian pipe organ; the custom
Swain & Kates organ currently has 110 ranks and 6,155 pipes.

September 29th, 1963

Dedication of Calvary's Library and the Kit Stewart Chapel​

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).

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1978

Sanctuary placed on National Register of Historic Places​

Calvary’s sanctuary is placed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the registry of San Francisco of Historical Landmarks

1980

Education Building Completed

The newly-designed education building is completed, replacing the original 1902 structure which had become unsafe and outdated.

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1988

Major Sanctuary Renovation

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 and ADA renovations​

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).

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2004

150th Anniversary Celebrations​

Calvary celebrates its 150th Anniversary with year-long events, “Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future.”

2008

Calvary labyrinth created

Calvary’s labyrinth, one of only a few around the Bay Area, is created in the lower level.

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2012

Calvary goes green

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.

2014

Breaking Cycles of Poverty partnerships​

Matthew 25 Partners for ChangeThe Calvary Presbyterian Poverty Task Force selected New Door Ventures, Raphael House, the Boys & Girls Club (new Don Fisher clubhouse), and SF Achievers as partners for a new endeavor to help break cycles of poverty. These partnerships resulted in investments of “time, talent, and treasure” in these outstanding organizations as they provided needed educational, job-related, and affordable housing services to those seeking to leave poverty.

This program continues on today renamed as the Matthew 25 Partners for Change.

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2014

Stained glass windows restored​

2014: Calvary completed the year-long restoration of the seven beautiful 25-foot-tall stained glass windows. The painstaking process required that 17,000 pieces of 112-year-old-stained and painted glass, be individually cleaned, repaired, re-leaded and re-installed, while maintaining their historic integrity, so they would last another 50-100 years.

2016

Racial equity initiatives

2016: Calvary begins the thoughtful process of responding to racial inequality and inequity in our community. This process, evolved into the Racial Equality Initiative, to recognize and to educate ourselves about systemic racism and to explore the unconscious bias in our own hearts and minds.

2018

Sanctuary

In response to the needs of the immigrants in our city, the Calvary community thoughtfully went through the discernment and approval process to become a Sanctuary Congregation and work together to welcome and walk with refugees and immigrants in San Francisco.

2020

COVID response

As the COVID-19 virus turned into a global pandemic, Calvary followed health guidelines by temporarily moving our ministry exclusively online. While helping to keep our community physically healthy, we adjusted to support our community and maintain our spiritual health as well. Services, classes, discussions, concerts, and even coffee hour were moved to livestreams, zooms, and pre- recorded presentations. Our  pastoral staff, and church leaders reached out from their living rooms to provide special messages and meditations. (New Head of Staff, Rev. Marci Glass even began her Calvary ministry during this time, and many were introduced to her virtually!) Though we missed seeing each other in person, our online ministry reached people all over the world, and blessed us in new ways we never could have  imagined.

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