Top 5 Institutional Buildings in the Excelsior

March 16th, 2020 No Comments »

The Excelsior’s main commercial district, along Mission Street and Geneva Avenue, features many important and prominent institutional structures. Like our post on the Top Five Residential Buildings in the Excelsior, there is great deal of subjectivity in making a list of our favorite institutional buildings since there are so many standout examples. That being said, here are our top five Excelsior residential buildings:

First Corpus Christi Church (built 1898) on Santa Rosa Avenue near Alemany Boulevard.

Corpus Christi Church

62-64 Santa Rosa Road
(built 1952)

Corpus Christi Church is one of the great examples of institutional buildings that recall the Excelsior’s Italian American heritage. This Midcentury Modern-style building replaced the Church’s original 1880’s Gothic Revival style church. That original building was, according to Walter Jebe Sr., built for $7,000 and served a small population of Italian (as well as Swiss and German) farmers. This saved Italians in the Excelsior from traveling almost three-and-a-half hours to North Beach to go to mass at Saints Peter and Paul Church!


Exterior of Corpus Christi Church, designed by Mario Ciampi. Photo by Heritage Staff, December 2019.

In 1952, the original Corpus Christi Church was replaced by a new Midcentury Modern style building, designed by master modern architect Mario Ciampi. The complex includes a church and a school. The front wall of the building was a radical new design, with individual colored-panes of glass that produced beautiful light effects in the church’s entrance. However, these were eventually replaced by the amber-colored glass that is there today (allegedly by a pastor who didn’t like them).

Exterior of Ocean Avenue Presbyterian Church, built in 1922 by Julia Morgan. Photo by Heritage Staff, December 2019.

Ocean Avenue Presbyterian Church

32 Ocean Avenue
(built 1922)

Many do not know that this modest church just off of Mission St. in the Excelsior was designed by renowned master architect Julia Morgan. Built in 1922, this church features a stucco and half-timbered exterior and a side entry pavilion with Gothic arched windows, delicate tracery, and stained glass. A pre-1950 community center is located at the rear of the lot facing San Juan Avenue, while a Sunday School was also added between the church and community center sometime after 1950.

Ocean Avenue Presbyterian Church, 32 Ocean Avenue. 1954 Mar. 20. San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library.

The interior of the Church has a simple yet beautiful wood timbered-ceiling and wood paneling. While this church was being completed, the congregation met for three months for services at the Bell Theater at Mission and Leo Streets.  The church is one of Julia Morgan’s lesser known works, but is now the oldest church building in the Excelsior neighborhood.

Italian American Social Club at 25 Russia Avenue near Mission Street.

Italian American Social Club

25 Russia Avenue
(built 1940)

The Art Deco style Italian American Social Club is a hidden-gem in the Excelsior. Just off of busy Mission Street on Russia Avenue, this institutional building is another example of the Excelsior’s Italian-American heritage. According to the history of the Club, the group first met in the basement of a member’s home on Naples St. in 1928. The group consolidated with the Alfieri Club in 1938, and the combined membership voted to construct a new meeting hall.

Detail of floriated molding and decorative green, white, and red Deco ornament along the roofline of the Italian American Social Club, along with a center medallion with the Club’s initials “I.A.S.C.”

The buildings for the Italian-American Social Club and nearby Sons of Italy Hall (5051 Mission) were both purpose-built to function as fraternal societies and social halls, and both buildings and businesses are still in operation today. Dedicated in 1940, the Italian American Social Club building features a series of piers inset with floriated molding and decorative green, white, and red Deco ornament along the roofline (the colors of the Italian flag). The awnings of the first story echo this color scheme.

The Club does open its rooms and restaurant to the public, and has hosted a variety of events from weddings and birthdays to dance workshops and church groups.

With Heritage’s assistance, the Italian American Social Club is in the process of applying for a place on the Legacy Business Registry. It is also the site of our recently-rescheduled Heritage in the Neighborhoods kickoff (more info on a new date soon).

The old Guadalupe Hall Building at 4555 Mission Street, with Casa Lucaz #3 Produce and Meats on the ground floor. Heritage photo, December 2019.

Guadalupe Hall

4555 Mission Street
(built 1909)

Technically also a commercial building, Guadalupe Hall is also an important institutional building as well. Though understated in its features, it is the earliest social venue in the Excelsior. Located on 4555 Mission Street, Guadalupe Hall was constructed in 1909 and has hosted weddings, dinners, associations, and meetings. At one time it was the only social venue around this southern part of the city, and also hosted regular meetings of the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. Today, the lower floor of the building is home to the Casa Lucaz #3 produce market, which reflects the growing Mexican population that arrived in the Excelsior after World War II. The social hall upstairs was in more recent years used by seniors in the Filipino community for dances and other events, and it is now a Spanish-language church hall.

Guadalupe Hall is on the right, with an automobile out in front, c.1920. You can just barely make out the words “Guadalupe Hall” at the top of the building. From Images of America, San Francisco’s Excelsior’s District, by Walter Jebe Sr.

Guadalupe Hall Building (in blue) as depicted in the 1915 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map in Heritage’s archives. Note the word marking the building as a “Hall,” and the fact that the multi-story building was also home to a garage and repair shop.

Jewish Home of San Francisco (formerly the Pacific Hebrew
Orphan Asylum and Home Society

302 Silver Avenue
(built 1940)

A significant San Francisco Jewish institution lies in the Excelsior – the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home Society, now known as the Jewish Home of San Francisco, at 302 Silver Ave.

“Original Jewish Home building constructed in 1891, n.d.. Written on the back is “Old Silver Ave. home.” San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library [AAC-9966]

Detail on the northern border fence of the Jewish Home on Mission and Silver, referred to here as the Hebrew Home for the Aged Disabled.

Jewish Home building designed by Samuel Lightner Hyman, 1953. San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library. [AAC-9973]

This significant institution first opened its two-story wood Victorian building to twelve residents in 1891. According to the Jewish Home’s website, the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home Society was incorporated in 1871 with the dual goals to “found and maintain an asylum for orphan children” and “establish and support a Home for aged and infirm Israelites.” In 1923, the original building was replaced by a brick Georgian Revival building designed by Samuel Lightner Hyman.

Although the site has undergone a series of major reconstructions and additions, it has served these primary functions for over 125 years; the complex, now known as the Jewish Home, is still a senior living facility. Significant additions include the construction of a Brutalist-style tower known as “Annex A” in 1969, designed by Howard A. Friedman, and its associated courtyard and fountain in 1970, designed by Lawrence Halprin. The courtyard is enclosed by Annex A (now known as the Goodman Building) and the Beaux Arts-inspired Main Building on an almost 9-acre site.

According to the Cultural Landscape Foundation, the design for the courtyard “employs a central fountain, a generous expanse of lawn and deciduous and evergreen trees to create an urban oasis for residents. The fountain is composed of a series of cascading, rectilinear, overlapping concrete planes, animated with water that streams over them and collects in a shallow sunken pool. The concrete planes form an almost stage-like horizontal surface, upon which reclines a mother and child sculpture by Israeli artist Ursula Malbin.”

Do you have a favorite institutional building in the Excelsior? Let us know at kyoung@sfheritage.org or by using #HeritageExcelsior on social media.


Thanks to these sources:

Hannah Simonson, Excelsior & Portola Historic Context Statement (Planning Department, City and County of San Francisco: 2017)

Walter G. Jebe Sr., San Francisco’s Excelsior District (San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2004)

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