Renovated St. Mark’s opens its doors 

One of The City’s landmark historic churches reopened this weekend after months of renovation.

On Sunday, more than 500 worshipers, neighbors and members of The City’s interfaith community packed St. Mark’s Lutheran Church at 1111 O’Farrell St. to see its new look despite the cold weather.

"In 1895, during the dedication ceremony, an earthquake occurred, so today’s rain was nothing," Rev. Elizabeth Ekdale said.

St. Mark’s, one of seven original churches in The City founded by gold seekers in 1849, has needed seismic retrofitting for more than 20 years. But renovating the church with its distinctive tower and red brick building while preserving its historic architecture was a challenge.

The church’s founding fathers purchased two parcels of land on O’Farrell in 1894 for $17,500 to build the current structure, after originally opening in Union Square. The church, a brick masonry building, was designated a historic landmark in 1971 and damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

In 1992, San Francisco voters approved a bill establishing deadlines for unreinforced masonry buildings to be made seismically sound. In response, more than 500 churchgoers raised $11 million to rebuild their historic place of worship.

"One of the main things is, it’s a historic building and we didn’t want to disturb the inside or the outside," said Gary Schilling, the chairman of the renovation project. "The building looks virtually the same inside and out, though it looks more like it did in 1895."

Schilling said the building was reinforced with steel and concrete to preserve its look and the interior was transformed back to its original appearance, including the same palette of colors used in 1895. During the 18-month renovation period, prayer services were held in an adjacent building.

"It allows us to move into this new century and allows us to do things we weren’t able to do before."

The church is open to hearing how the community would like to use its new space, which is now optimized for events such as concerts, conferences and weddings, according to Ekdale. She said the renovated church with its high roofs, stained glass windows and expansive seating would help the church expand its services and better serve the local community.

"We’ve made a commitment to serve the homeless," she said. "We have made an effort to keep the doors open seven days a week. We have been focused inward and now we are ready to focus outward."

sfarooq@examiner.com

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