Grace Cathedral History
A “cathedra” is a bishop’s seat, located in a “cathedral,” the official church of a bishop. A bishop is the chief minister of a diocese or administrative area. A dean and canons administer a cathedral as the diocesan “mother church.”
Grace Cathedral, of the Diocese of California, grew from humble roots. Little Grace Chapel was built in the 1849 Gold Rush on Powell near Jackson Streets. Founder Rev. John Ver Mehr, although the first Episcopal Church minister appointed to the city, was preceded by Dr. Flavel Mines who had already built Trinity Church. Grace Chapel stood across the street! Ver Mehr, thinking perhaps of the two New York parishes of the day, named his new chapel ‘Grace.’ The opening service saw mostly miners, and the collection was gold dust. Trinity Church moved away, and missionary Bishop William Kip became Grace Church rector in 1854. The parish blossomed in a larger church building. A third more ambitious brick Gothic church opened uphill, at California and Stockton Streets, in 1862. Society joined the parish, including nabob Leland Stanford and the junior Crockers, and a curious Mark Twain visited. Notable rectors included Rev. James Bush, ancestor of presidents. Bishop Kip was again rector in 1862-1864, and the church was known unofficially at the time as Grace “Cathedral.” Sadly, in 1906, a great earthquake struck San Francisco, and the church burned in the ensuing city-wide fire. It remained a picturesque hillside ruin for months.
Bishop William Nichols, second diocesan, had long envisioned a diocesan hill-top cathedral. In an act of extraordinary generosity, the William H. Crockers, whose mansions atop Nob Hill had also burned, gave their block to the diocese as a cathedral site. A temporary pro-cathedral was built in 1907 and a cathedral corporation founded. Noted English architect George Bodley prepared plans, but his death led to a new design by partner Cecil Hare. In 1910 the cornerstone was laid and Rev. J. W. Gresham was chosen as the first dean, a beloved pastor for nearly thirty years. Lewis Hobart, Hare’s local agent, was made official architect and redesigned the cathedral.
Hobart’s nave basement unit, the Founders Crypt, was a ‘temporary’ home from 1914 to 1930. The present cathedral was begun in 1927 and the Chapel of Grace opened in 1930. By 1934 the two-thirds-built cathedral was opened for use, but the Depression stopped further work. Bishop Parsons, third bishop, was a champion of social justice at the time. A north tower was built 1936-1943 but construction did not resume until 1960, under controversial Bishop James Pike and Dean Julian Bartlett. A Cathedral School for Boys was begun in 1956. The largely completed cathedral was consecrated in 1964. Celebrated visitors included Dr. Martin Luther King and Duke Ellington. New life strengthened Grace Cathedral in 1985 with the arrival of Dean Alan Jones. Canon Artress introduced the labyrinth in 1991. The cathedral responded early to the AIDS crisis, and the cathedral close was finished in 1995, when the cathedral’s UN 50th Anniversary service hosted world leaders. In 2012 the eighth dean the Very Rev. Dr. Jane Shaw created the cathedral’s Artist in Residence program based on her belief that the arts are a pathway to the divine. Now in its fourth year, the program has brought thousands of visitors to the cathedral to see works by esteemed artists Anna Deavere Smith, Anne Patterson, Bryant Terry, Elaine Buckholtz and Floor van de Velde. The climate change problem is a high priority of current Bishop Marc Andrus. Bishop Marc Handley Andrus and Dean Malcolm Young now lead Grace Cathedral, a “House of Prayer for All People,” into a future full of challenge and promise.
Past Bishops and Deans
Bishops of the Diocese of California
First dates listed are years of birth and death. Last dates are years in office. Coadjutor bishops assist, and then succeed, serving bishops at times of death or retirement. Suffragan bishops assist, but do not succeed, serving bishops, and are listed below, indented. Crosses + placed after dates means bishops died in office. Originally statewide, the Diocese of California now constitutes most of the Bay Area north of San Jose.
William I. Kip (1811-1893) (missionary bishop 1853-1856) 1856-1893+
William F. Nichols (1849-1924) (coadjutor 1890-1893) 1893-1924+
Edward L. Parsons (1868-1960) (coadjutor 1919-1924) 1924-1940
Karl M. Block (1886-1958) (coadjutor 1938-1940) 1940-1958+ (died in Grace Cathedral)
Henry H. Shires (1886-1961) suffragan 1950-1958
James A. Pike (1913-1969) (coadjutor 1958) 1958-1966
Richard Millard (b. 1914) suffragan 1960-1975 (later Bishop of The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, 1979-1980)
Kilmer Myers (1916-1981) (coadjutor, Diocese of Michigan 1964-1966) 1967-1979
William E. Swing (b. 1936) (coadjutor 1979) 1981-2006
Marc H. Andrus (b. 1956) (suffragan, Diocese of Alabama 2002-2006) 2006-present
Deans of Grace Cathedral
First dates are years of birth and death. Last dates are years in office. Cross after dates means dean died in office.
J. Wilmer Gresham (1871-1958) 1910-1939
Thomas H. Wright (1904-1997) 1941-1943
Bernard N. Lovgren (1893-1967) 1946-1951
C. Julian Bartlett (1913-1992) 1956-1975
Stanley F. Rodgers (1928-1977) 1975-1977+ (died in Grace Cathedral)
David M. Gillespie (b. 1925) 1979-1985
Alan W. Jones (b. 1940) 1985-2009
Jane A. Shaw (b. 1965) 2010-2014
Malcolm C. Young (b. 1967) 2015-present
Bishop Block was acting dean in 1943-1946 and in 1951-1956, with Canon John P. Craine and Canon Eric S. Montizambert serving as deans in all but name during these periods.
A cathedral close, or precinct, usually includes cathedral and diocesan administrative buildings, dean and canon’s houses, parking area and gardens. Grace Cathedral’s close occupies a 2.5-acre (1hc) city block near the summit of historic Nob Hill. The native-American, Spanish and Mexican eras left no trace on upper Nob Hill, but the Gold Rush of 1849 had immediate effect on the roughly-surveyed city block. First came private homes dating from the early 1850s-60s: simple clap-board houses, many with front porches and picket fences. Several prominent Jewish San Franciscans lived along Taylor Street, and a more blue-collar assortment along Sacramento Street. Among the latter was German undertaker Nicholas Yung, who refused to sell out to Charles Crocker when Crocker was buying up the block in 1874.
A tall fence rose around his property and, although Yung soon moved his house, the famous eyesore fence remained until 1904. In 1876 Charles Crocker, one of the Big Four builders of America’s first transcontinental railroad, built his huge Deuxieme-Empire mansion on the future cathedral nave site. Former President Grant was among celebrities hosted there. Other Big Four (Stanford, Hopkins, Huntington) built or occupied mansions nearby, and the derisive name “Nob” Hill (from ‘nabob’ or ‘rich man’) was born. Crocker’s third son, banker/philanthropist William H. Crocker, completed a noted Queen Anne mansion in 1889 next to his father’s home, on the future site of the cathedral choir. The death of his parents at that time left the old mansion empty: a gigantic guest house.
The William H. Crocker’s remained the city’s premier society hosts and all their children were born in the new mansion. Mrs. Crocker built a fabulous collection of French impressionist art. The 1906 earthquake and fire ended Nob Hill’s opulent nabob era, although none of the original Big Four were still alive. U.S. Army troops of Camp Rough Rider occupied tents on the Crocker’s block for several months. The Crockers moved down the peninsula to their Hillsborough home. The new cathedral close was mostly an empty block, with ruins of the mansions to the south, and the dean’s bungalow, shingled offices and little Grace Pro-Cathedral to the north and east. Squatters had to be ousted from the Crocker ruins.
That building became Cathedral House with cathedral offices in the 1960s but was demolished in 1995. The Founders Crypt (nave basement) served as the cathedral 1914-1930, with a parking lot to the north. As the present cathedral rose, Diocesan House was built in 1935 on the Pro-Cathedral site. After cathedral completion in 1964, the Cathedral School for Boys was built in 1966 on the tennis court site with a rooftop playground. In 1993-1995 the close was completed with a new Chapter House, courtyard and underground public garage, and a new front stairway. The school added an eastern wing (1996) and later a southern section (2009).