LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY
Built as the Golden Gate Commandery for the Knights Templar, the distinctive structure at 2135 Sutter Street between Steiner and Pierce Streets was under construction when the 1906 earthquake struck, delaying its completion. Claiming to descend from the Knights Templar of the Crusaders, who in the 12th century served to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land, the Masonic Order of the Knights Templar built the meeting hall there after outgrowing an earlier structure.
When the brick and stone building was finally completed in October 1907, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “The hall is said to be one of the finest and best appointed temples in the land.” Designed by the architectural firm of O’Brien and Werner, a partnership known for other Masonic-related projects, the building has been an important neighborhood landmark for a century.
Architect Carl Werner, a Philadelphian and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came to California at the turn of the 20th century and later designed numerous Masonic buildings throughout the state. A Mason himself, he was a longtime resident of Alameda and, with several partners, he designed the Art Deco-inspired Alameda County Courthouse.
Werner’s architectural partner, Matthew O’Brien, completed several residences around Alamo Square, but seems to have specialized in designing theaters, hotels and Masonic buildings.
While they worked together for only a decade, from 1903 to 1913, O’Brien and Werner designed many notable buildings after the earthquake and fire, including the Hippodrome and Tivoli and Golden Gate theaters.
For the commandery, they designed a two-story building over a raised basement of rough-faced stone. The symmetrical facade is finished in red brick with decorative cream-colored terra cotta elements: shields, winged knights, mystical figures, Latin crosses and sculptured heads — which, along with the crenelated roofline, convey a medieval character that also fits the building’s subsequent ecclesiastical
Fraternal organizations such as the Freemasons, Odd Fellows, Elks, Hibernians and the Native Sons of the Golden West gained popularity in the United States after the Civil War. In major American cities, as well as more rural communities, these orders often built elaborate meeting halls. But after the second World War, as suburban living decentralized membership, many of these men’s organizations began to decline. In 1950, the commandery, which had occupied the Sutter Street building since 1907, formally moved to the Bliss and Faville-designed, monolithic cube at 25 Van Ness Avenue in the Civic Center.
A rising neighborhood institution, the Macedonia Baptist Church purchased the building from the commandery in 1950. The congregation was composed primarily of African-Americans living in the Western Addition and the Fillmore. Led by Rev. P. S. Ogborne, the church grew to 2,000 congregants by his death in 1957. A new pastor, G. L. Bedford, who had been serving a Los Angeles church, made some interior alterations, paid off the mortgage and revised the name to Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church.
Dr. Martin Luther King preached at two services at the church on Sunday, February 26, 1967.
From the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Macedonia lost some congregants to both the extensive redevelopment in the Western Addition and to Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ. After the mass suicide of Jones’s followers in Guyana in November 1978, Rev. Bedford buried a number of Peoples Temple members.
Today, the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church remains a vibrant, involved institution. The mid-block, eclectic structure was designated San Francisco Landmark No. 202 in January 1993.