Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Saint Dominic & The Russian Center

San Francisco Russian Center

Let's consider the borderland between Pacific Heights, The Fillmore, and Japantown -- known inelegantly as Lower Pacific Heights. Near Divisadero and Sutter last Saturday, I spotted an interesting faded sign high on a brick wall down the street and, camera in hand, checked it out. As i approached, my eye was drawn away from the incidental signage and toward the baroque facade. For such a big and significant building i was very surprised to have never seen it before. It is The San Francisco Russian Center; solid, proud, a classical beauty.

My macabre interest in this neighborhood goes back to a harrowing episode in The City's history. The Peoples' Temple site nearby on Post is where Jim Jones mesmerized nearly a thousand followers, led them out of town to the jungles of South America, and incited them to mass suicide in 1978, San Francisco's annus horribilus. Vibrations still ripple the waters from that demonic period, though the Temple itself is long demolished. A part of the City's soul left with Mr. Jones and his congregation.
Which is not to say that San Francisco's spiritual magnetism is diminished. It is home to the widest spectrum of the free expression of faith from Anton Levey to Harvey Milk, Junipero Serra and Reverend Cecil Williams, dark artists to light zen masters. It is a place where stars are crossed and soul power still erupts decennially.
Even as the Institutional Church convulses in waves of doubt, betrayal, and shame, the architecture that aspires toward a god remains incredibly powerful.

Below is a gothic cathedral, Saint Dominic's, about three blocks east of the San Francisco Russian Center. It's flying buttresses and gossamer solidity honor the work of the men who built it no matter the bureaucracy that financed it, and add positively to the neighborhood's built environment.

Saint Dominic's Cathedral

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