Centennial Celebration of St. Mary’s Park

By Peter Marlow

Archbishop Joseph Alemany, OP, the first Archbishop of San Francisco, desired to build a college in the city shortly after the Archdiocese was founded. Purchasing a piece of farmland property, he founded the first St. Mary’s College in 1863.

The original buildings—an academic facility, refectory, and kitchen, along with buildings for horses, cows, and other farm animals—were built on the property close to St. Mary’s Avenue and Mission Street.

Several years later, the school leadership changed hands from a diocesan priest to the De La Salle Christian Brothers.

The college was moved to Oakland (with a brief time back in San Francisco) and then out to Moraga, where the original cast iron bell from the college resides.

The buildings and land remained as farmland until 1924 when Archbishop Hanna signed over the property to a residential development company, forming St. Mary’s Park.

On March 21, a ceremony was held to honor the transition and naming of St. Mary’s Park in San Francisco, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone blessed the area.

Matt Evans, a member of the centennial committee, did the yeoman’s work of tracing the history of the neighborhood back to its original buildings to create a map overlayed on current streets to show the original location of the college.

He used historical city insurance documents from the Archdiocese showing the buildings and analyzed current topographical maps and other documents to calculate the original location of the college using current street maps.

Taking ceremony attendees on a neighborhood walk through history, Evans pointed out landmarks and houses that represent the original location of the college, including a cypress tree grove planted to block the wind that swept through the valley.

The tour concluded with a reception where attendees could view historical maps and a model of the original college.

Peter Marlow is Executive Director of Communications And Media Relations of Archdiocese of San Francisco