Gloria Diana Ramos’s parents were married at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in 1933. She was baptized there and received her first communion in the Russian Hill church, which was once at the heart of a long-gone Mexican neighborhood.
“There was a Mexican barber, restaurants, drug stores,” the 75-year-old recalled as she sat on the steps of the now-shuttered church. “Everyone spoke Spanish. It was part of a very vibrant neighborhood.”
That changed around the time the Broadway tunnel redirected traffic in the 1950s. Latinos migrated to the Mission, and the church began a slow decline. Its last mass was held in the early 1990s, and the Archdiocese of San Francisco later used it to house a Chinese bilingual school.
But last summer, the school moved out, and the archdiocese began looking for a buyer.
Selling a church, however, is no simple matter.
“We understand that people are going to be upset about this,” said spokesman George Wesolek. “That’s where they were baptized, maybe married. There are strong emotional connections. But we have to move on.”
Former parishioner Clementina Garcia Landgrave, 80, doesn’t want to move on.
“We are very upset, very angry and so disappointed,” said Landgrave, who started a group of former petitioners to fight the sale of the church, which was constructed in 1875 with donations from Mexican-Americans.
Last summer, after the church was listed for sale with an asking price of $3.5 million, former parishioners asked the archdiocese to instead preserve the church for the use of the Latino community. A petition garnered nearly 500 signatures.
Wesolek noted that many signatures were from the East Bay, and that even those from San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo constituted a small portion of the archdiocese’s 250,000 Latino Catholics. Still, he added that the church won’t be sold or leased to just anyone.
“We don’t want it to become a disco,” he said. “We would want it to have a dignified use.”
The church is a local historic landmark, which prevents changes to the façade.
Ramos, a retired architect who started the Latino Heritage and Landmark Preservation Society to push for the church’s landmark designation in 1993, said Our Lady of Guadalupe should remain available to the Latino community.
“I would personally like to see them offer it at a reduced price for community use,” she said.
Felix Ortiz, president of the Mexican Patriotic Committee, a local non-profit dedicated primarily to celebrating Mexican holidays, said his group hopes to partner with other groups that could share the church for concerts or other secular uses.
“That’s the whole spirit of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that everyone is welcome to the place that is her home,” he said.
Churches on the block
Shifting demographics have led the Archdiocese to sell several churches in recent years. Some recent listings:
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Neighborhood: Russian Hill
Status: For sale or lease
Price: $3.5 M
Status: Sold to a developer in 2010
Price: $4.2 million
Neighborhood: Nob Hill
Status: Sold to Academy of Art University in 2005
Price: $3.75 M
Source: Archdiocese of San Francisco