San Francisco, California

San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral offers the service of choral Evensong on Thursday afternoons throughout the year. It is a particularly Anglican service that evolved from the monastic hours and combines features of the office of Vespers and Compline. It is sung regularly in many cathedrals and parish churches throughout the country, and daily in many places in England. At Grace, one is invited to sit in the choir for the service which draws just under 100 people, including members of the choir. Yesterday’s anthem, with text from Ephesians 5, was composed by Thomas Tallis, a 16th century contemporary of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Evensong happens four evenings a week at the General Theological Seminary in New York. I attended twice while staying there last October. The entire chapel on the seminary grounds would fit comfortably, with room to spare, within the choir of Grace Cathedral.

Grace is the third largest Episcopal cathedral in the U.S. and, like much of San Francisco, it has become a global icon. Situated atop Nob Hill, its construction was started in 1928 and completed in 1964. It is a successor to the Grace Church which was organized during the 1849 Gold Rush. Its French Gothic architecture shares many features with the National Cathedral in Washington.

The central, Ghiberti Doors of Grace Cathedral, were cast from the same molds used in the 15th century for the Baptistry of Florence Cathedral. James Davies and I saw the Italian originals during our 1986 visit to Florence.

Following the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed much of San Francisco, William H. Crocker, a Grace parish member, donated the land of his ruined home on Nob Hill for the construction of a cathedral, with the requirement that “Grace” remain the name of the new structure. In 1934, William’s daughter, Harriet Crocker Alexander, donated the Alexander Memorial Organ in memory of her husband, Charles Beatty Alexander; the organ was designed by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston.

Crocker was a banker and civic leader, and a son of Charles Crocker, one of the four original investors in the transcontinental railroad. The other three investors, Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, and Mark Hopkins, also made their homes on Nob Hill. The Huntington and Mark Hopkins hotels stand today on what were the ruins of their mansions.

Before his days as a successful railroad man and merchant in Sacramento, California, Charles Crocker started life in 1822 in Troy, New York. After a falling-out with his father, he began working his way West. In 1849, he joined two of his brothers and a few other young men in leaving from Quincy, Illinois, to seek their fortunes in California.

The Peterson family lore relates that my great-great grandfather, William Peterson (b. 1815, New Jersey; d. 1899 Pineville, Missouri) joined his brother Dean and a few other young men to seek their fortunes in 1849 California. They would have departed from Adams County, Illinois where they lived, and for which Quincy is the county seat. The Petersons returned “busted.”

Following Evensong, James and I located Johnny Foleys Irish House at 243 O’Farrell Street, a favorite from our previous visits. It is a mere block from our current lodgings at the Hotel Union Square, 114 Powell Street. The Powell Street cable cars run past our second floor window regularly.

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