Old Saint Mary's Cathedral

Old Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception is a proto-cathedral and parish of the Roman Catholic Church in San Francisco, California. The cathedral is located on the corner of Grant Avenue and California Street. The church is named for Mary, the Mother of Jesus, under the title of the Immaculate Conception.


Old Saint Mary's was built in 1854 as the first cathedral of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. It is the first cathedral in California to be built for the express purpose of serving as a cathedral, although other churches in the state served as cathedrals before it was built. It was used from 1854 to 1891 as a cathedral and was replaced by the first Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, as the archdiocese was in need of a larger space for the growing number of Catholics in the area. In 1891, Old Saint Mary's became a parish church, still using the same name that it bore as a cathedral. The new St. Mary's Cathedral was located at Van Ness Avenue and O'Farrell Street.

Under the clock face of Old St. Mary's appears the words: "Son, Observe the Time and Fly from Evil" (Ecclesiasticus 4:23). This sentiment was aimed at the men who frequented the surrounding brothels in the 1850s.

It was in front of Old St. Mary's that Emperor Norton I collapsed in 1880, on his way to a lecture at the California Academy of Sciences.

Old St. Mary's survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, only to be gutted a day later by the fires started by the earthquake. The fires were so hot that they melted the church bells and marble altar. All that was left was the exterior brick walls and the bell tower. The renovation of the church was completed in 1909.

The church further expanded and built an auditorium, a library and a lecture room and used that space in the future to host events for the servicemen and women of World War II.

Old St. Mary's remains an active parish of the archdiocese, and serves the Chinatown and Nob Hill communities of San Francisco. Old St. Mary's Church is a California Historical Landmark. The Paulist Fathers have served Old Saint Mary's since 1901, and continue serving there today.