Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A refresher on the history of some (non-native) religions in San Diego

From a review of San Diego history published in 1908:

Catholics:  San Diego was originally a Catholic mission, later abandoned and Old Town became secularized, and in the late 1840's, according to records, a priest arrived to lead a congregation.  They built a church, and then replaced it in 1858 with the Church of the Immaculate Conception (shown above).  There was a succession of priests, and then Father Antonio Urbach held office from 1866 to 1908.  He oversaw the growth of San Diego from small settlement to town (San Diego City's population in 1860: 771; in 1900: 17,700).  Part of this growth was moving out of Old Town and into St Joseph's Cathedral in what is now downtown (at the time it was "Horton's Addition", located to the west of San Diego).

Protestants:  The first Protestant service was held in Old Town in 1853, led by an Episcopalian army chaplain.  When that Reverend left, services became sporadic as occasional itinerant preachers came through town.  Only in 1868, did a minister arrive to take over.  He cleaned the abandoned army barracks and held services there, until the first Episcopalian church in San Diego went up in 1869 (now the Cathedral Church of St Paul).

At nearly the same time, a succession of Methodist ministers held services in various locations, and then in the first Methodist Church in 1870.  In 1887 they tore that church down and put up a gigantic (for that time) three-story building with mixed use for the church and businesses, and then sold off that building when they outgrew it in 1905.  The First Methodist Episcopal Church opened downtown in 1906, and the congregation then moved to Mission Valley in 1964.  The Mission Valley location has an original stained glass window, a cornerstone, and other pieces of the 1906 church on display.

The first Baptist church saw service in 1869, on Seventh Street between F and G (today that area is parking lots and hotels).  The second, larger Baptist church went up in 1888 on Tenth and E (again, long gone).  By 1900, the Baptist congregation boasted a membership of almost 700. Also in 1869, a small Presbyterian church was built on Eighth and D, and they also moved to a new facility in 1888. 

Jews:  An article in the San Diego Herald  in 1851 reported that the three Israelites of San Diego were observing the Day of Atonement.  The first congregation, with 18 members, began renting spaces for holiday observances in 1872.  With the temporary population boom of the late 1880's, the Jewish population of San Diego was over 300.  In 1889, the congregation (then organized as Beth Israel) built a facility on Beech and Second.  But the congregation diminished with the economic and population collapse of the 1890's, and there was no rabbi and only sporadic services for two decades.  With local prosperity things turned around, and Beth Israel moved to a new place in 1926.  The old temple went through several owners, including a Spiritualist group led by a psychic, then fell into disrepair before being declared San Diego Historic Site Number 82 in 1973, and Beth Israel bought the site back for renovation.

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