by Jim Lucas, March 6, 2012
The Orthodox faith has had a presence in San Francisco since at least 1857, and the first Russian Orthodox church was founded in 1868. The Greeks that settled in San Francisco during those early years worshipped at the Russian Orthodox Church until Holy Trinity was founded in 1904.
Those of you that live in the San Francisco area are familiar with two Greek churches in San Francisco, Holy Trinity and Annunciation Cathedral. Holy Trinity is the oldest Greek church west of Chicago and Annunciation Cathedral was founded in 1921. Most Greeks are very surprised to learn that there was a third Greek Orthodox Church that existed for a brief period.
St. John Prodromos Greek Orthodox Church, 1917, on Rincon Hill.
Photo: Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area
In 1908 there was a disagreement over parish council elections and the handling of money at Holy Trinity. The disagreement turned violent on July 12, 1908, when police were called to Holy Trinity (San Francisco Call, 7-13-1908, “War Raged at the Door of the Sanctuary”). A faction led by Ioannis Kapsimalis (former parish council president and Greek Consul) decided to start their own church. They acquired land on Rincon Hill (35 Stanley 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 Constantine Tsapralis as their first priest (There is a common misunderstanding that Fr. Tsapralis’ service at Holy Trinity was continuous from 1903 – 1936 which is not true). The Holy Trinity community in turn hired Fr. Stefanos Macaronis as their next priest.
On December 2, 1909, the factions resolved their differences and St. John Prodromos ceased to exist. Fr. Tsapralis was rehired by Holy Trinity and Fr. Stefanos Macaronis moved to a parish in Oregon. From 1910 until Holy Trinity was raised to install a meeting hall in 1922, this property served as the offices and meeting hall for the community. There are numerous news articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Call relating to Greek community events that were held at the Alexander the Great Hall. This building was a vital part of Greek community life.
Mr. Peter Bergevin, the owner of the property, passed away at December 27, 1911 at the age of 68. Mr. Bergevin willed the property to Holy Trinity. On June 23, 1915, a hearing was held regarding Mr. Bergevin’s estate. His daughter, Mrs. Adeline Telfer, deeded the property to Holy Trinity on July 20, 1915 pursuant to a court order regarding the estate of her father.
The property was later sold to the State of California to make room for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge closing this early chapter of San Francisco Greek history.
Jim Lucas is the President of the Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area and can be reached by email at jim [at] sanfranciscogreeks [dot] com. More San Francisco Greek historical material can be found here.