Holy Innocents Church

Holy Innocents, 455 Fair Oaks, the oldest Episcopal church building in San Francisco, was designed in 1890 by architect Ernest Coxhead (1863-1933) for the pricey sum of $4,400. The lot cost $4,600, and the forebuilding was added in 1904. In the 1940s, the tower was changed from a spire and cupola to the current square belfry.

Architect Coxhead was born in Eastbourne, England. After London and Los Angeles, he came to San Francisco in 1890. Coxhead, with Willis Polk (1013-1019 Vallejo) and Bernard Maybeck (Palace of Fine Arts), changed the architectural image of San Francisco forever. Common materials were incorporated with classic designs to create worldly structures that honor the landscape.

Coxhead played tricks with scale, hugely enlarging a solitary decoration, or making a passage low and dark to give the illusion of great size and light in the space beyond. He created illusions with doors and windows. He used burlap and leather on the walls of the sanctuary. Sadly, however, they were painted over in 1892.

The funeral for James Rolph Jr. was held at Holy Innocents on a cold and rainy day in June, 1934. The widow was dry-eyed. “Sunny Jim” had served as Mayor from 1912-1931 and then as Governor of California. The house he grew up in is located nearby at 3416 21st Street with a wonderful view of the Mayor’s beloved City Hall.