Heritage 50: Little Sisters of the Poor

April 22nd, 2021 No Comments »

Early 1900s photo of Home for the Aged of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Lake Street at 4th Avenue, Western Neighborhoods Project.

San Francisco Heritage is celebrating its 50th anniversary all through 2021. Each week we will share a short chapter of our history.


Little Sisters of the Poor is a Roman Catholic religious order for women founded in the 19th century by Jeanne Jugan, who felt the need to care for the many impoverished elderly who where found to be living in the streets of French towns and cities. They arrived in San Francisco in March 1901, taking up temporary residence at 2030 Howard Street in today’s Mission District. By 1902, ten Little Sisters lived there, and as the home began to fill with residents, the Little Sisters realized they needed to find a larger permanent location.

Edward Joseph LeBreton, one of San Francisco’s most successful businessmen of the early 1900s, quickly took an active interest in the Little Sisters’ work on Howard Street and told them, “It is for God that I am giving. I will give you the home—complete—regardless of the cost…”1 Le Breton placed only two conditions on his gift. The inscription, “In Honor of My Father and Mother,” was to be placed over the door of the new home. And in recognition of his devotion to the mother of Mary, he hoped that St. Anne could be the patron of the new home. On May 15, 1904, the doors at St. Anne’s Home at 300 Lake Street opened to greet its first 121 residents.

The brick building was designed in the Georgian/Edwardian style by master San Francisco architect Albert Pissis, whose work also included The Emporium, Flood Building, and Hibernia Bank. 2

View east across 5th Avenue near Lake Street. Woman posed on the sidewalk. The old building of Little Sisters of the Poor in the background between the houses. Circa 1930.

In 1976 the city adopted a new earthquake safety code, and St. Anne’s Home was declared unsafe in the event of a fire or earthquake. The price to bring the building up to code was not feasible for the Sisters, and they determined that it was not possible to carry out their religious purposes in the old building. Despite concerted efforts from neighbors and preservation organizations like Heritage to preserve the building, including a failed landmarking, these attempts were unsuccessful and the building was demolished. The Sisters acknowledged that it was a difficult decision, but that it was in the best interests of their residents, whose care came first. 3 Groundbreaking for the construction of a new home took place on April 25, 1979. The original building was demolished, where a sprawling lawn now in its place (the new building was set back further from the street).

The memory of the old home built by LeBreton is kept alive by the bell named for his mother, as well as the cupola of the old building, both centrally situated on the front grounds of the home today. The caption in memory of LeBreton’s parents now sits prominently in the garden alongside the grotto.

St. Anne’s (Little Sisters of the Poor), 300 Lake Street, 1982. San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library.


Sources:

  1. “Learn About the History of our Work,” https://www.littlesistersofthepoorsanfrancisco.org/history/
  2. “Buildings in the News,” Heritage Newsletter, VOL. V, No. 4, December 1977
  3. Outside Lands Podcast Episode 397: Little Sisters of the Poor, https://www.outsidelands.org/podcast/WNP397_Little_Sisters

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