The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in 1938. Photo credit: Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area.
This is post is adapted from text written by Father Stephen Kyriacou, Presiding Priest and Christo Pappademos Pastoral Assistant and Youth Director at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in San Francisco.
St. Sophia, the precursor to the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Metropolis Cathedral, was founded in June 1921 at Hayes and Pierce Streets by a group of parishioners from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. By doing so they established a second Greek Orthodox community in San Francisco — the “first” community was “Greek Town” in the South of Market, which grew into the center of local Greek life after Greek immigrants started to arrive in San Francisco in the 1880s (and in much greater numbers after the 1906 earthquake and fire necessitated the hiring of new workers to rebuild the city).
Annunciation Cathedral Founding, 1921 at Hayes and Pierce Streets. Photo credit: Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The St. Sophia community grew rapidly, requiring larger facilities. In April 1928, the community acquired the historic Valencia Street Theater (1908). The theater was known as the “grandest, most beautiful of the West” and the place where entertainer George Burns got his start.
Exterior of the Valencia Theatre, between 1908 and 1924. With seating for 1700 guests, the theater was never a commercial success. However, stars like Ethel Barrymore, Nijinsky, and Pavlova performed here. In the 1920s the theater was converted to St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church – the precursor to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral – and two gilded domes were added. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.
In 1929, St. Sophia parishioner Alexandra Apostolides founded the Daughters of Penelope, a women’s organization dedicated to promoting Hellenism, education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, and family. Mrs. Apostolides’ impact on Greek women was profound throughout her life.
During the Great Depression, the community was unable to sustain its financial obligations and the church was lost in foreclosure. Fortunately, within a few years, and working with A.P. Giannini of the Bank of Italy, the faithful were able to again take back their church, signaling the growth of the parish again. During this time, the Saint Sophia community was reorganized and named the United Greek Orthodox Community of San Francisco, the Annunciation.
Over the decades that followed, the church stood as the core of the Greek community of San Francisco. During World War II for example, the Annunciation community led several Greek War Relief efforts. During the war and into the 1950s, a Greek radio program was broadcast from the Cathedral, and became the voice of the Greek community. The radio program broadcast live concerts during Christmas, and these became so popular that parishioners and neighborhood residents stood outside the Cathedral to enjoy holiday music.
August 31, 1954. Newscopy: “IT’S MADE OF TEN DIFFERENT METALS–Artist Nikos Bel Jon uses steel wool to put finishing touches on an anadized metal tile Byzantine-type mosaic he is completing in his studio at 45 Maiden Lane. Made of 10 different metals and valued at $3,000 the mosaic is a gift by Eftihia Demaka, a polio victim, to the Greek Orthodox Church of The Annunciation, 245 Valencia street, it measures 7 1/2 by 12 feet.” San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.
Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation at 245 Valencia Street in 1977. Max Kirkeberg Collection, DIVA, SF State.
Entrance to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in 1983. Max Kirkeberg Collection, DIVA, SF State.
In this photo of the American Indian Center at 229 Valencia Street, you can see a Greek-American food imports store on the ground floor. This business illustrated the presence of the Greek community around the Cathedral, which was located just to the south of here. Today, the Cathedral is located within the American Indian Cultural District. Photo: Max Kirkeberg Collection, DIVA, SF State.
At 5:04 PM on October 17, 1989, the devastating Loma Prieta Earthquake struck, effectively destroying the entire Cathedral building. For a second time, the church was lost. While the congregation of Annunciation Cathedral suffered no loss of life or personal injuries, the earthquake wreaked devastating damage to the Cathedral building. The city closed the building as a result, since structural engineers noted that a portion was in imminent danger of collapse. Parishioners voted to demolish the church and construct completely new facilities.
The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation being demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Max Kirkeberg Collection, DIVA, SF State.
The rebuilt Cathedral buildings in 2003. Max Kirkeberg Collection, DIVA, SF State.
After two years of searching for an alternate site to rebuild, in 1991, parishioners voted unanimously to rebuild on the same site. One consideration in deciding to remain in its present location was the commitment to the neighborhood, where the church served as an important community anchor. Ground for Phase 1 was broken on November 22, 1992, and the rebuilt Cathedral included a 300 seat chapel, a multi-purpose hall, kitchen, classrooms, and Cathedral offices.
The Annunciation serves as the Cathedral Church for the [ecclesiastical territory of the] Metropolis of San Francisco. While there are several cathedral churches in this Pacific territory, including Holy Trinity, Phoenix; Saint Sophia, Los Angeles and, more recently, the Ascension, Oakland, Annunciation is the seat of the Bishop. As a community, it serves approximately 1,000 families in the immediate area. The Cathedral is also headquarters for many fraternal and national organizations, who have assisted in its rebuilding efforts.
In the years approaching the Cathedral’s 100-year anniversary in 2021, the community decided it was time once again to rebuild. On October 17, 2013, the Annunciation was granted a building permit for a new Cathedral— 24 years to the date of the devastating earthquake. Two other buildings were subsequently torn down to make way for this effort, which also includes a new parking structure that benefits the church, school, and Mission District community. Presently, the new Cathedral is 80% completed and the project has moved into Phase II.
Since their beginning in 1921, the Cathedral has taken an active role in offering programs and services that benefit their parishioners and the San Francisco community. Some of the programs the Cathedral provides include the Public Kitchen Ministry and Homeless Feeding Program, senior visitation programs, Dementia Caregivers’ Support Group, and its philanthropic branch, the “Friends of the Poor,” to aid those who may need help due to physical, mental, or financial challenges.
The new Cathedral dome under construction. Photo courtesy of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation.
The completed Cathedral dome exterior. The Cathedral is awaiting further funding to complete the dome interior. Photo courtesy of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation.
Currently, the Cathedral’s dome is the next major project awaiting completion. The dome in Byzantine architecture is of great significance, and is considered the most important feature of the Cathedral because the dome is a representation of Heaven. The Annunciation have commissioned Iconographer and University of Athens professor George Kordis to paint an image of Jesus Christ – “Pantokrator,” which most accurately means “He who holds all” – on the interior surface of the dome once construction is complete.
$14,600,000 (81%) has been raised to date for the total capital campaign budget of $18,000,000. Currently the Cathedral is in the final stage of public fundraising to raise the last portion of the capital campaign for the interior of the Cathedral.
If you would like to donate towards the Annunciation Cathedral’s Capital Campaign (specifically towards their work of finishing the dome), visit www.annunciation.org/donate or contact Father Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to take a tour and view the progress at the new Cathedral, please contact Father Stephen, or by call the Cathedral office at 415-864-8000.