The Annunciation Cathedral of San Francisco sustained extensive damage during an earthquake in 1989. This historic community stands strong, and rebuilding efforts are in full force as they prepare to celebrate their 95th anniversary.
Annunciation Cathedral of San Francisco
The Annunciation Cathedral has served Greek-Americans in the Bay Area since 1921. Like many communities, this parish has seen its share of ups and downs. From a bankruptcy to destruction of the church by an earthquake, this community remains strong. Now, 95 years after its founding, and 27 years following the earthquake, Annunciation Cathedral is in full rebuilding mode. They’ll celebrate the resilience of this community at a gala on November 5, 2016.
This summer, I visited the Cathedral and caught up with Fr. Stephen Kyriacou to discuss this historic community and their unyielding commitment to rebuild and continue their important work.
History of Annunciation Cathedral of San Francisco
We’ve heard tales of Greek-American communities splitting over loyalties to the King of Greece and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, and San Francisco was no exception. The Annunciation Cathedral of San Francisco traces its history back to 1921. A group of parishioners from Holy Trinity Church in San Francisco who were sympathetic to Venizelos decided to break off and start their own community. Originally called St. Sophia, the community purchased lots on Hayes and Pierce Streets, and then all the lots facing Pierce from Hayes to Fell Street. Their plan was to build the cathedral, as well as an orphanage and a school. His Eminence Metropolitan Meletios Metaxakis laid the cornerstone at the groundbreaking on June 26, 1921.
The first priest of the community was Father Philaretos Ioannides, who later was consecrated as the first bishop of Chicago. He later served as a bishop in San Francisco, and ultimately became Metropolitan of Syros.
In 1927, Archbishop Alexandros consecrated Father Kallistos Papageorgopoulos as the first Bishop of San Francisco at the Cathedral, where he established his office.
St. Sophia expands on site of George Burns Theater
The community grew quickly and acquired additional land for building. In 1928, they acquired the adjacent Valencia Street Theater, where many celebrities like Comedian George Burns got their start.
Daughters of Penelope started here
Alexandra Aspotolides, wife of devoted Ahepan Dr. Emmanuel Apostolides, decided women needed a voice. She formed the very first chapter of the Daughters of Penelope at St. Sophia in 1929. Today, the Daughters of Penelope is active in the U.S., Canada, Cyprus, and Greece.
Depression, name change
Like many institutions, in 1935, during the Great Depression, the community declared bankruptcy, and the church property was sold in a foreclosure auction. Undaunted, the community rallied support and reorganized as the United Greek Orthodox Community of San Francisco, in 1936. They repurchased the church property soon after.
WWII and beyond
The community of Annunciation Cathedral of San Francisco experienced significant growth through the war years, and after. They were active in organizing Greek War Relief Efforts during WWII. During the 1940s and 50s, they broadcasted a Greek radio program from the Cathedral. At Christmastime, the Cathedral hosted live concerts, which were broadcast on the radio. Parishioners and neighborhood residents lined up outside to enjoy the music.
The community was officially named the Annunciation Cathedral of San Francisco in 1962. That year, additional property was acquired to build a new community center complex, and ultimately renovate the sanctuary, auditorium, and classrooms.
Father Stephen Kyriacou was named Dean of the Cathedral in 1987.
Loma Prieta, a 7.1 earthquake struck on October 17, 1989. The Cathedral sustained significant damage, resulting in closure by the City. The community elected to demolish the church and rebuild.
The neighborhood had changed significantly, and most parishioners had moved from the area. A movement began to relocate the church. A visit from then-Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios changed everything.
“His All-Holiness was visiting, along with Bishop Anthony. He wished to see the rubble, the remains of the church. He looked around and said rather emphatically that we should rebuild here. When Bishop Anthony assured him that we were identifying another site closer to where our parishioners lived, he said emphatically that the Cathedral should be rebuilt here.”
Due to the financial constraints of building an entirely new church complex, they voted to break the project into phases. Phase 1 commenced in November 1992 and included a chapel, hall, kitchen, and classrooms. The seed money came from a donation by the Ladies Philoptochos.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited in 1997 for the groundbreaking of the new Cathedral. Father Stephen reiterated His All-Holiness’ words.
“He said, ‘The church shall be a home for all Orthodox Christians from every ethnic and national background. It shall be a house of prayer for all humankind, in which the Holy Name of our Triune God shall be extolled and all of creation sanctified.’ In other words, he was offering a new paradigm for how we should be viewing the church. We are being called to see the Church as the Body of Christ which consists of all of God’s creation, devoid of any limitations.”
Father Stephen said the hierarchs were prophetic.
“It’s not about the church community as we’ve known it to be, it means developing outreach; it means sharing our faith and values with those surrounding us, including City government. One way we’ve done this is starting a soup kitchen. It’s serviced by our Young Adults.”
This is the only major church construction project happening during the current building boom in San Francisco.
Serving the community
Today, the Cathedral serves more than 1000 families in the area. It’s also the headquarters for many fraternal and national organizations, including the San Francisco Greek Historical Society.
The Cathedral hosts many programs, including Sunday School, Greek School, GOYA, YAL and youth basketball, plus adult basketball, Bible Study, Orthodox Church Life, Greek Folk Dancing, and Summer Camp.
The neighborhood surrounding the Cathedral is undergoing gentrification. Many people working in Silicon Valley have chosen to make this area their home, including many young Greeks working in tech. Trendy restaurants have begun to dot the area. We’re told that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his family recently purchased a home in the area, which has significantly increased demand for local real estate. The hierarch’s edict was indeed wise.
A cross in the sky
As construction on the new Cathedral is progressing, it was time to place cross on the dome. Weighing more than 500 lbs. and standing 9 feet tall, the cross could not be carried onto the dome – it had to be brought in by helicopter. The helicopter company assigned a date — the feast day of SS Constantine and Helen, in 2016.
“It was like being a soldier standing with the Emperor Constantine, watching the cross in the sky overhead, accompanied by the words, ΕΝ ΤΟΥΤΩ ΝΙΚΑ (By this, conquer).Of course, that event brought peace to the world at that time and enabled normalization of the Christian Faith. May this little act in our day help foster peace in our corner of the world.”
Once the cross was secured, a smaller cross — about 4 feet tall and weighing 200 lbs. — was installed over the entrance to the new Cathedral, above the narthex. Father Stephen led parishioners inside the chapel to celebrate Divine Liturgy.
The community of the Annunciation Cathedral of San Francisco will celebrate its 95th anniversary at a gala on November 5, 2016. Visit Father Stephen and the Annunciation community and see the progress. It will be stunning when it’s completed 2018. Here’s to the next 95 years of serving the Bay Area!