Rising from the Ashes

We can barely comprehend the feelings of the SI Jesuits as they returned to the ashes of their school once the fire subsided. Imagine them, in their black cassocks, poking through the rubble looking for items they could salvage and grieving over all they had lost. They were able to save vestments, chalices, crucifixes and ciboria that they had pulled out before fire gutted the church. They were also able to save some furniture and the giant bell that had sounded the call to prayer on Hayes Street and, years before, on Market Street. They had it carted it away, knowing full well that they would rebuild. (That bell had fallen to the ground but survived intact and is now in use at St. Ignatius Church.)

Some of the SI student body continued their schooling at Santa Clara College in the days following the earthquake. Fr. Richard Gleeson took in a number of his brother Jesuits from SI and invited the graduating class to finish their term with Fr. Dionysius Mahony, SJ, and Mr. Frederick Ruppert, SJ. Those students were awarded degrees at the end of their term. (Among the members of that class was Bernard Hubbard, later to join the Jesuits and gain fame as “The Glacier Priest” for his explorations of Alaska.)1

While those classes were underway, Frieden wrote to Archbishop Patrick William Riordan, Alemany’s successor, asking for permission to rebuild the church and college at another site. Earlier, the Jesuits had left their Market Street campus as it had grown too crowded with businesses and, regarding property taxes, too expensive. By the turn of the century, they saw the same thing happen to Van Ness Avenue, and they wished to migrate westward once more.

In a letter to the Archbishop, Frieden wrote that “constant increase of taxes on our property on Van Ness Avenue makes it impossible to rebuild there. We ask permission of Your Grace to change the location of the church and college. That portion of the city bounded by Hayes, Stanyan, McAllister and Masonic Avenue seems suitable and free from objection. The only block obtainable at present is that bounded by Shrader, Fulton, Cole and Grove, but the steep grade makes it undesirable for building. However, we are compelled to take action at once; we have an option on that block expiring on Monday, May 21st. We ask Your Grace’s permission to close the bargain with the further permission to purchase a more suitable block in the same section if, later on, we can do so.” (The Jesuits later built the USF Law School on this land, which became known as the “Frieden block.”)2

In the meantime, 18 SI Jesuits became the guests of Mrs. Bertha Welch, who offered her 57-room home at 1090 Eddy Street in Jefferson Square for their use until new quarters could be built. Others came to the aid of the Jesuits, including the Sisters of Mercy. The sisters offered their property on Hayes Street near Golden Gate Park without rent, but they could only surrender the land for two years as they were already planning for the construction of St. Mary’s Hospital for that site. Frieden knew he would need more than two years, as the Grove Street campus would need extensive grading before construction could begin, and he declined the offer.3

The land he chose for the fourth campus of St. Ignatius College was at Hayes and Shrader Streets. Frieden leased two lots on June 1, 1906, for five years, and on the same day paid a $1,000 deposit on the Grove Street site. Workers began grading the Hayes and Shrader campus on June 26, with a formal inauguration ceremony on July 1. The Monitor covered the event and noted the following: “An immense crowd gathered last Sunday afternoon … to witness the ceremony of breaking ground for the new temporary church, monastery [sic] and college of the Jesuit Fathers of St. Ignatius. The Fathers are at present domiciled in the beautiful home of Mrs. Welch … but they are anxious to get into a home of their own … for this reason, the project initiated last Sunday with enthusiastic fervor will be pushed with all possible dispatch to conclusion. It is hoped to have temporary structures ready for occupancy by September 1.”4

Among those in attendance was Judge Jeremiah Sullivan who, back in 1863, had acted in the play Joseph and His Brethren as part of the end-of-the-term dramatic exhibition that year. Standing before the crowd, he spoke of the Jesuits’ history in San Francisco, noting that “these sons of Loyola are now facing the future, ready to begin anew their labors. We here ask all to assist with their fortunes, their honor and their best endeavor the building of the new St. Ignatius.”5

Frieden followed, adding that “three months ago, no one would have thought we would be ready to build a new St. Ignatius upon this site, but, undaunted by disaster, we are ready for the new work. We have never lost courage, for we know that it is God’s work and He has provided. If San Francisco is to live, we live with it; if it passes, we pass with it – but not before.”6

San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz noted that “from the ashes of the past, there will spring up not only a greater and better city but a greater and a better St. Ignatius College and Church.” But the last word, and the most light-hearted, was had by Archbishop Montgomery, who made reference to the school’s proximity to Golden Gate Park: “This college dates back through fifty years of wonderful history but, like the course of empire, it now takes its way westward. Horace Greeley has said: “Go west, young man!” and St. Ignatius College had never failed to do so. The Jesuit Fathers are cousins of St. Francis and always locate in the best place. Nobody should doubt the wisdom of selling the old site for a good price and buying a cheaper place. No one will doubt the wisdom of it when he comes to the new church, says his prayers there and then has a little picnic in the park afterwards.”7

This fourth campus, a temporary one, would serve the school for 23 years, far longer than anyone anticipated. Shortly after it opened, students began calling the Hayes and Shrader school the “Shirt Factory,” as the school building resembled the omnibus factory buildings south of Market Street. (It was also a cold and drafty building according to accounts from that period.) McGloin writes that the school earned this name “because of its pedestrian architecture as well, perhaps, of its rambling dimensions. [I], as a high school graduate of the last class to be educated within its drafty confines, can testify to its distinctive appearance as well as to the punishment it successfully survived from 1906–1929. Although legend attributes the name to the characterization given the building by Fr. Victor White, SJ, it is perhaps just as true that, after the fire and earthquake, San Francisco had a number of hastily constructed and strictly utilitarian buildings such as the ‘temporary’ Jesuit omnibus building at Hayes and Shrader Streets. Actually, some of these were ‘shirt factories!’”8

To ensure the school would be open by September, construction crews worked seven days a week. Perhaps knowing that they might need the “temporary” school for longer than the five-year lease, the Jesuits purchased the land (measuring 275 by 137.5 feet) for $67,500 from Mr. & Mrs. M.H. deYoung. The contractors finished, and the building was ready by September 1, opening that Saturday to a large crowd. As Fr. Whittle wrote that day in his diary: “We opened the new college today. We were much rejoiced to see a large attendance. As the building is not sufficiently complete and, more especially, as we could not as yet procure textbooks for the students, the classes were dismissed to open again next Friday.”

A famous photograph exists from that opening day ceremony showing the entire student body posing in front of the school; some of these students were sitting on window ledges, on the roof, on gables, and atop construction material. It is hard to imagine any school today, with all the concerns about liability, allowing students to pose for a similar photograph.

During the 1906–07 term, the new school saw 34 Jesuits (18 priests, nine scholastics and seven brothers) ministering to 271 students who attended college, high school and eighth grade classes. These teachers and students found themselves with a revised curriculum, as SI began to follow some academic trends of the time. New electives, as listed in the 1906–07 Catalogue, included “higher mathematics, mechanical drawing, advanced physics and chemistry, special laboratory work, physiology, biology, modern languages, Latin, Greek and English literature, constitutional and legal history and other branches suitable to prepare one for the study of Engineering, Medicine or Law.”9

The first college commencement exercises following the earthquake took place on June 25, 1907, in the Van Ness Theater “on the spot occupied before the fire by the college hall,” according to the San Francisco Bulletin. The school awarded five Master’s and six Bachelor of Arts degrees, and SI alumnus and former Mayor James Phelan spoke about the greatness of San Francisco. (The college continued to hold graduation ceremonies in downtown theatres for many years. The high school did not celebrate its own graduation ceremony until 1916.)