The United States military is the world’s only community to have systematically built interfaith sanctuaries. By 1931, the 1864 Garrison Chapel next to the Officers’ Club in the Presidio could no longer accommodate all the worship services required to serve military personnel and their families. Protestant and Jewish congregations moved to what became known as the Presidio Chapel. When the Presidio became a national park, the Interfaith Center moved in to continue to welcome and serve a much more religiously diverse population.
Built in 1931, the Presidio Chapel at the Presidio of San Francisco is an outstanding example of the Spanish Mission Revival style and is beautifully perched on a wooded slope overlooking San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco Bay. It is a “Significant Contributing Structure” in the National Landmark District of the Presidio.
The sanctuary walls are lined with plaques memorializing former Presidio army soldiers and occasionally their family members. In addition, an outdoor monument to military chaplains, another dedicated to Vietnam Veterans (the first ever in a military installation), and additional outdoor memorial plaques all testify to the site’s military history and keep the memories alive.
Arnautoff Peacetime Activities of the Army Mural
(Jan Chaffee, Photo)
(Jan Chaffee, Photo)
(Jan Chaffee, Photo)
Art has always been an important part of the Chapel’s appeal. Two artistic masterpieces, both completed in 1935, grace the Chapel. The sanctuary is home to 11 stained glass windows honoring the virtues of military character. These were created by Willemina Ogterop, the first female union card-carrying stained glass artist on the West Coast. A large wall mural, The Peacetime Activities of the Army, is located in what is now an enclosed reception area. Scenes depicting the Presidio’s rich history surround Saint Francisco who is portrayed in the center of the fresco. The mural was created by a team of artists led by Victor Arnautoff, an apprentice of Diego Rivera and lead artist for the murals at Coit Tower.
In 1999, the Chapel was offered 25 stained-glass artworks being built with shards of glass from bombed-out European sanctuaries devastated during World War II. The family of U.S. Army Chaplain Frederick McDonald, who collected the shards in 1944-45, commissioned 13 artists to create what are now known as the “McDonald Windows.” These will be installed in the Chapel’s new west wing and will add enormously to the rich sense of history and the personal lives of all who serve their country.
Built in 1931, the Presidio Chapel needs a major facelift and expansion to best serve the interfaith center of tomorrow. Issues such as earthquake codes and accessibility were not considerations at that time. The congregations for which the chapel was built, Protestants and Jews, worshipped in pews. Sunday School classrooms and a large community, or “parish”, hall were provided for on the ground floor.
One of the design challenges is to create appropriate space for those religions whose followers do not use pews but gather in circles and/or sit/kneel on the floor. To address these concerns and guide the project, the Interfaith Center has hired the renowned architectural firm, Page & Turnbull, Inc. Page & Turnbull specializes in restoration and historic preservation; they have overseen such high-profile restoration projects as Grace Cathedral, Old First Presbyterian Church and the Asian Art Museum. The proposed renovation project will:
- Renovate much of the existing non-sanctuary space to better accommodate a wide range of religions that will use the facility for various events and activities.
- Restore the Chapel’s historic pipe organ, add an elevator, install new plumping, electrical and heating systems, and update the kitchen and restrooms.
- Improve entranceways and exterior landscaping so the Chapel is in harmony with its lovely surroundings.
- Provide seismic bracing of the roof and other upgrades to bring the building into compliance with local building codes and with ADA accessibility requirement.s
- Provide better space for educational programs, hospitality (both indoor and out) for weddings, gatherings, services.
- Provide a permanent home for the McDonald Memorial Peace Windows in a new 1,900 square foot addition.
You can help honor those who have gone before and help provide accessibility to the Chapel for people of all faith traditions and abilities to meet each other in a safe place.
Please consider making a gift to Honoring Sacred Space, a project of Community Initiatives, by sending a donation to:
Honoring Sacred Space
234 Pine St., Suite 700
San Francisco, CA 94104
Artist’s Conceptual Rendering of Presidio Chapel Restoration
(Page & Turnbull, Architects)