Heart of the City Archives

Sacred Heart Church is an endangered landmark high on Fillmore Street.


Frosty air crosses the City on Golden Hills
by Hank Donat

There is nothing like a cold snap to keep a San Franciscan's feet on the ground. The chill reminds us that life is not lived completely in the carefree moments of adult ease and sophistication characterized by the warm glances of a best friend and something like Vince Guaraldi's "Mr. Lucky" playing in our minds as we linger over cappuccino at Citizen Cake. Rather, life is lived in the grind, between the offices, schools, churches, shopping streets and parks where we may indeed find a breathtaking view but we'd settle for a parking space.

The Sacred Heart Church at 546 Fillmore Street is the last predominantly African American Catholic church in the Western Addition. It will close for good on New Year's Eve. Though members of the congregation have been aware that the closure was likely for several months, they hadn't lost hope that the archdiocese would rally behind their efforts to save their church, which needs $3 - $8 million in repairs.

The day before Thanksgiving, in a chilling letter to Sandra Finegan of the Committee to Save Sacred Heart, Monsignor Harry Schlitt said, "The Archbishop and his advisors do not wish to entertain any plan to retrofit Sacred Heart Church." He added, "although we have no immediate plans for demolition, I would presume this to be the course that will be taken."

Opened on Fillmore Street in 1897, Sacred Heart has been recognized by some historical groups including the Friends of 1800, but the church is without protected landmark status.

At Sunday morning mass on Thanksgiving weekend, the sadness in the hearts of parishioners here was obvious. Some have been worshiping at Sacred Heart since the 1950s. Many lingered long after the service, taking time for remembrance under the church's crumbling ceiling. Some took photos.

When I observe Sacred Heart from points afar, such as Alta Plaza in Pacific Heights, I find a jewel of San Francisco. It sits majestically on the hill like our own San Gimignano, out of time, now nearly out of luck.

The Sacred Heart Gospel Choir invites one and all to its final Christmas Praise Extravaganza on December 12. The choir's musical review starts at 3 p.m. A buffet dinner gets underway at 5. Admission is free.

Also in time for the holidays, the frost between Supervisors Chris Daly and Michela Alioto-Pier culminated in a historic group-encounter Board of Supervisors meeting. Alioto-Pier unsuccessfully sought to censure Daly for aggressive behavior including Daly's telling a lobbyist to "f-off" at a public meeting.

The result was an hours-long infomercial for Daly by his supports, who testified that the supervisor's language may have been obscene but evicting the seniors and the disabled for whom Daly advocates is more obscene. Joe O'Donohue, head of the Residential Builder's Association said he would give anyone "the Belfast kiss" in defense of tenants. (Only-in-SF moment: Being asked to explain the meaning of "punk-ass bitch" to the writers from the Sing Tao Daily. - HD)

Daly apologized to Alioto-Pier but ultimately reserved the right to be uncivil in defense of the downtrodden. I asked Daly what he thought a person's responsibility is for the way he shows up to others. This is a basic tenant of anger management. "My responsibility," said Daly, "is to come in here and do the best job possible for the people I represent." I've been told, and so now have you.

Glide on by: If hadn't I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed the aplomb with which Kris Johnson and Tod Dunbar Thorpe managed the hundreds of volunteers at Glide Memorial on Thanksgiving Day.

At one point in the afternoon, with the sound of Mayor Gavin Newsom drumming with the Kings of Cali in Boedeker Park reaching the second floor of the Glide building, Thorpe and Johnson received the last of more than 800 volunteers and dispatched them to serve meals, bag lunches, and gather donated toys.

For the most part, people volunteered as families and groups, arriving in threes and fives throughout the day. One little boy named Charles was so excited about carving turkeys that his squeals of joy were heard trailing him through the halls.

I have written here that I was a terrible waiter in my youth. Now I have proof that this reputation precedes me. When I volunteer to work at Glide's Thanksgiving dinner, they put me on the phones.

You've got mail: A typical day in San Francisco started last week with a letter from Mabel Teng, informing me that my Valentine's Day marriage was null and void. My efforts to convince even some progressives and gay people that our same-sex marriages are not to blame for the Bush reelection have mostly fallen on deaf ears. What happened between now and last February, when many of these finger-pointers were so happy for us?

Heard everything yet? A SoMA-based designer I know phoned asking me if I could kindly be sure to send a horizontal greeting card this year rather than a vertical one in order to better fit his holiday display project.

And how was your week?

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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