Noe Valley Voice October 2009

Photo by Richard Cano

Steeples at St. Paul's Get a Makeover

By Corrie M. Anders

Saint Paul's Catholic Church in Noe Valley is undergoing three months of preventive maintenance to replace the slate tiles that adorn the church's majestic twin steeples.

Work began in August to eliminate a potential safety hazard at the nearly 100-year-old sanctuary, one of the neighborhood's most notable landmarks, at Church and Valley streets.

Father Mario Farana, pastor at St. Paul's, commissioned the repairs after discovering that some of the heavy tiles were "starting to come off" the sharply pitched spires.

"The steeples are essentially in good shape," said Farana, the church's pastor since 1993. "But the slates could be a safety hazard. Heavy strong winds that shoot off Diamond Heights can be fierce at times, and we don't want anyone to get hurt."

The two asymmetrical icons atop the English-Gothic church can be seen throughout Noe Valley. The steeple on the north side of the church rises some 200 feet into the air. The south tower is slightly shorter. Each is topped with a cross.

Scaffolding has been placed around the exterior of the church, both to protect passersby and to aid workers. Lawson Roofing Inc. was the low bidder on the $600,000 project, which calls for removal and replacement of all of the tiles.

Farana says the church, which has about 1,300 families on its membership rolls, will remain open while the repair work is being performed.

"The project should be finished, God willing, by Christmas," he said.

Construction of the church was started in 1897 and was completed in 1911. The spires--embellished with slate tiles imported from a quarry in Vermont--are among the building's most prominent features.

The church last underwent renovation nearly a decade ago in the wake of a San Francisco city ordinance that required seismic upgrading for many unreinforced masonry buildings. As part of the retrofit, the roof and attic were strengthened with more than 50 tons of new steel.

That seismic work started in January 2000 and shut down St. Paul's for one year. The church reopened in December 2000--in time for parishioners to celebrate Christmas mass.

Next month, St. Paul's will hold an auction/dinner-dance as part of ongoing fundraising efforts to help finance church repairs. Auction items include a seven-day Hawaiian vacation for four people and two footballs that former San Francisco 49er stars Joe Montana and Jerry Rice have signed.

"We'd like all of our neighbors to come," said Katy O'Shea, director of the church's capital campaign. O'Shea said she expected more than 200 people to attend the $65 dinner-dance, set for Nov. 14 at Patio Espaņol restaurant, 2850 Alemany Blvd.

The fundraiser runs from 6 to 11:30 p.m. For more information, contact O'Shea at 415-648-7538 or visit the church website at