Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral


Year of Memory

175 Years of Grace Cathedral

Welcome to the Year of Memory

One hundred and seventy-five years ago, in 1849 our congregation had its first worship service. An usher passed the hat to raise money for the fledging church and the founder and first rector Rev’d John ver Mehr discovered little envelopes that contained gold dust from recent discoveries in the Sierra.

This is a gold rush church. Rev’d ver Mehr served anyone who came to him. He ministered to mutineers who were to be hanged at dawn, soldiers at the Presidio, local merchants, farmers, prospectors, lawyers and laborers. He founded schools and two churches (Grace Cathedral and Holy Innocents in San Francisco). He raised money and built our first church building near the corner of Powell and Jackson.

Since then Grace has grown up with the city of San Francisco. It is older than our museums, newspapers, clubs, schools, universities and other cultural organizations. It shares the same spirit of openness, curiosity, tolerance and love that has made our city famous around the world.

At Grace Cathedral we continue to help those in need, to appreciate the beauty of this extraordinary place, to advocate for a more humane and ecologically thriving society and to serve God with generosity.

– The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young


February 27th, 1927

February 27th, 1927 marked the low-key groundbreaking for the Chapel of Grace, the first unit of Grace Cathedral. William H. Crocker, accompanied by Mrs. Whitelaw (Elizabeth Mills) Reid overturned a small pile of bricks with a shovel, on the site of Crocker’s pre-1906 mansion. There had been several false starts that led to that day, after the grand laying of the cathedral cornerstone in January, 1910. A change in plans had reorientated the cathedral from facing south, adjacent to Jones Street, to an east-west design with the façade on the east, adjacent to California Street. Then in 1913, the Founders Crypt, intended basement unit of the future cathedral, was built, opening in 1914. Funded by “founder” families, it was used as a “temporary” Grace Cathedral for 16 years, until a redesign and consecration of the finished Chapel of Grace in 1930. The William H. Crockers gave and furnished that first unit and its sparkling stained-glass windows, as well as the adjacent baptistry, a reminder of the many family baptisms held in the mansion by Reverend Robert Foute of nearby Grace Church, cathedral predecessor.


March 31, 1907

March 31, 1907 was Easter Day and San Francisco celebrated almost a year since the Easter Wednesday disaster of April 18, 1906, the great earthquake and fire that destroyed half the city. Grace Church, the brick Gothic landmark at California and Stockton Streets was little-damaged by the earthquake, but the coalescing downtown fires had reached it by midnight. Earlier that day the rector Dr. David Evans, had hurriedly filled his son’s baby carriage with chalices and early parish registers and scurried west to safety with his wife and child. Since then, the Crocker family, in a munificent gesture, had given their Nob Hill block to the diocese as a cathedral site, and a temporary pro-cathedral had been built close to Taylor Street at mid-block, with a north entrance. The outdoor labyrinth marks the site today. Easter was opening day. The humble wooden Grace Pro-Cathedral was full of the fragrance of lilies on that Easter morning, and former Grace Church parishioners filled the pews. Bishop William Nichols gave a stirring sermon on the three women finding the empty Tomb, and hymns of joy filled the air on Nob Hill. To the southwest, the vast brick ruins of the two Crocker mansions, father and son, marked the future cathedral site.


April 3, 1910

April 3, 1910 saw the installation of Grace Cathedral’s first Dean, the Very Reverend James Wilmer Gresham. Born in Mississippi in 1871, he attended the University of the South before ordination in 1896, marrying Emily Cooke in 1898. Rev. Gresham served in New Orleans and Charleston before coming west, for his health. He was rector of Trinity Church San Jose, when Bishop Nichols chose him as the first Dean of Grace Cathedral. An attempt

to retire due to the foggy city air was dissuaded by the Bishop. A popular “people person,” Dean Gresham and his wife lived on the close during most of his tenure. He led the 1927-1930 building fund drive, retiring in 1939 with Grace Cathedral two/thirds built. Something of a mystic and a poet, his popular devotional “Wings of Healing” was in print for decades. Dean Gresham’s Healing Mission was a prominent cathedral ministry. He had the gift of charismatic healing but kept it private. The Healing Window in the cathedral sacristy was given in his honor and he gave the Twenty-Third Psalm Window in memory of his wife. The cathedral’s longest-serving dean, Dean Gresham died in 1958. No Grace Cathedral dean since has been so beloved by his congregation and the wider community.