Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church History
For more than a century and to nearly five generations, Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church has been a beloved family estate for sharing weekly worship and nurturing lifelong relationships. Although some of the structures on this campus are elderly, the congregation is more youthful, vital, and joyfully engaged than ever in developing faith and spiritual gifts to reach out to all parts of the body of Christ.
Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church warmly welcomes guests of all ages and beliefs to experience the beauty of campus surroundings. But we pray that it will be the Spirit within the members that encourages visitors to return and become part of our loving family.
Below, for the more inquisitive, is the story of Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church, gathered and converted to electronic text from several print publicity clippings saved by Margaret "Peg" Luedtke, volunteer church archivist.
Coronado Churches: From Their Past to Their Present
By Bunny MacKenzie
Published in Bridge & Bay Magazine
Editor's Note: Prior to 1900, five churches had been organized in Coronado. The histories of two were reported earlier in Bridge & Bay Magazine. Christ Episcopal Church (Spring 1976) and St. Paul's United Methodist Church (Fall 1980).
Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church
The first Presbyterian services in Coronado were held on September 18, 1887 in the old Methodist church, NE corner of 7th Street and E Avenue (now school property). The sermon was preached by the Reverend W. B. Noble, D. D., a minister of the First Presbyterian Church of San Diego.
The congregation moved to the schoolhouse after several meetings in the Methodist church and on December 11, 1887, a Sabbath school was organized with James R. Hill as superintendent, George Foster, assistant superintendent and Miss May Gardiner as secretary. The Presbyterian church was duly organized by the Reverend F. B. Stewart, a commissioner of the Presbytery of Los Angeles, at the close of the regular service on March 18, 1888. The name chosen was The First Presbyterian Church of Coronado Beach. Some of the charter members included Mrs. Isabella Graham Babcock, Mrs. Graham, Mrs. Agnes Babcock, Dr. W. F. Bailey, Mrs. A. L. Corey, Mrs. W. C. Erickson, G. B. Maymew and Mrs. Nancy S. Silliman.
The church was built in 1890 from funds supplied by Mrs. Babcock, wife of Elisha Spurr Babcock, Jr., who built the Hotel del Coronado, as a memory to her mother and father, Susan and John Graham. [Other records state that Mrs. Graham's first name was Sarah.] On March 18, 1891, Mrs. Babcock presented the new building, which included four lots, to the First Presbyterian Church and it was officially accepted as a gift on the same day. The following Sunday it was dedicated and renamed Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church. [This conflicts information recorded in The First 100 Years, published in 1988. Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church Session minutes state that the name change did not occur until March 1921.]
Susan Graham was very active as a worker for the Presbyterian Synod of California and it was through her devoted services that the church was organized in Coronado. The church was designed by the renowned architect, James W. Reid, who also designed Hotel del Coronado.
Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of 10th Street and C Avenue, was built in 1890. Photo circa 1892. Courtesy of Coronado Historical Association.
Coronado Historical Association founding president, Bunny MacKenzie, presented the Reverend Kenneth B. Carson with the association's first bronze plaque designating Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church as a city historical landmark June 18, 1972. Mayor Rolland M. McNeely looks on.
In 1925, the manse (in Scotland, the dwelling-house of a Presbyterian minister), was built next to the church on land that was part of the original gift of Mrs. Babcock. The Reverend Notley Hammock was the first minister to occupy the building.
During the months of January and April 1939 the church was vacant, but the Pulpit Committee of the church recruited the Reverend Kenneth B. Carson from a church in Deming, New Mexico. He arrived in Coronado on April 20, 1939 with his wife, Frances and two young daughters. At that time Coronado had a population of only 6000.
Reverend Carson realized many of his goals for the church and community during his next 42 years of service. The Westminster Fellowship for young people was established; he brought together churches of various faiths and denominations in what he termed an "ecumenical fellowship"; he promoted cooperation between churches in and around Coronado, working with the late Rt. Rev. Monsignor Purcell of Sacred Heart Catholic Church; he became involved with Jewish Synagogues speaking at temples in San Diego; he joined with Catholic and other Protestant church leaders in 1960 to establish an Inter-Church Youth Council; and several years later he also helped establish the San Diego Ecumenical Conference, which now has over 100 Catholic and Protestant member churches, where he served on the Board of Directors. The Coronado High School seniors chose him 15 times to be their baccalaureate speaker at graduation exercises. Reverend Carson preached his last sermon on Sunday, January 25, 1981 and was honored by more than 300 Coronado with a gala luncheon at Hotel del Coronado. Mayor Patrick Callahan presented him with a plaque containing a key to the city of Coronado.
In 1953, the church purchased the historic Charles T. Hinde property adjacent to the manse, which included seven lots, a large mansion and carriage house. The mansion's first floor became the church offices, minister's study and meeting rooms. The second floor was occupied by the caretaker. This building is now called Kirk House.
In 1970, the carriage house was demolished to make way for the educational building which is now the home of Graham Memorial Preschool and Sabbath school.
Following Reverend Carson's retirement, the Reverend Henk Vigeveno served as interim pastor during the search for a new minister. May 1982, the Pulpit Committee recruited the Reverend Jon D. Freeberg from a church in Bridgehampton, Long Island, New York. He arrived in May 1982 with his wife, Barbara, and was installed as minister in September 1982. Upon his arrival, the second and third floors of the Hinde mansion were extensively refurbished and the parsonage was moved there. The caretaker now occupies the former manse.
For over 92 years Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church has played an important part in the religious, educational and cultural development of Coronado.
Historical reference: Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church and Coronado Historical Association.
Coronadans Put a Little Color Back into a Grand Victorian Lady
December 23, 1984
By Carol Olten
Published in The San Diego Union
Victorian-era churches were traditionally white to suggest purity and unsullied celibacy. Therefore, when a major restoration project was undertaken at Coronado's turn-of-the-century Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church, the decision to color the church caused considerable consternation.
The concern was not without basis. The church, after all, had been declared Coronado's first historical landmark in 1972. It was built by Elisha Spurr Babcock, Coronado's first big developer, and the Reid brothers—renowned architects—who also designed Babcock's most splendid venture, the famed Hotel del Coronado.
Over the years, Coronadans had developed a particular affection for the unassuming little church at Tenth and C streets, standing almost in the shadow of the grander white Victorian Kirk House, also part of the religious complex. To color the church? To some it seemed to border on sacrilege. Others were simply skeptical.
But the restoration is complete now, in time for the holidays with everybody fairly pleased and surprised at the aesthetic appeal of the color: a warm blend of golds, muted greens and soft whites from what colorists call the autumn system to suggest spiritual growth and light. Seven tones of gold, ranging from a dark candle glow to a near-white, were used on the main exterior. The golds were complimented by two tones of green used on the trim.
The response, said sexton Jon Freeberg, [an error... Freeberg was the church pastor] has turned from consternation "to excellent, excellent. Just about everybody I talk to now says the church looks great with this new paint job. Except for one or two diehards who just won't give in to anything but white, the overall response is simply ecstatic."
The 1890 Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church in Coronado appears before a repainting and reroofing. Obstacles to be overcome in the project were the ravages of time, a budget of only $20,000, and the reluctance of many in the congregation to accept colors other than the traditional all-white.
The idea of coloring the church belonged to restoration architect James Gibson, who already has restored the "Baby Del" house on Coronado, the Timken House in San Diego and numerous San Francisco Victorians, always introducing elements of color and subtle shadings on the exteriors.
As on the past projects, Gibson worked out the details of the color work with consultant Irene Sherman. "The idea for color comes from the many different moldings and facets of these buildings," said Gibson. "We had no intention of just painting a gold church, but used colors to bring out the sculptural forms of the building."
"All these Victorian buildings are mostly concerned with ornament, sculptured forms defined by shadowings. With a single color your eye never connects with the ornament because it's too busy looking at the monotone. But when tones of color are used on the moldings and facade, your eye connects much easier with the architectural elements."
Nevertheless, a considerable portion of the 400-member Graham Memorial congregation—not to mention its Board of Deacons and elders plus members of the Coronado city design review board and Coronado Historical Association—expressed concern over the white church being painted gold or any combination of hues when the idea was proposed early this year.
Bunny MacKenzie, a long-time Coronado resident and past president of the historical association, vaguely recalled that the church had been a goldish yellow in the 1930s (a period painting by M. A. Yerkes Offley hanging in the Kirk House verifies this), but she worried about the least bit of tampering with tradition, "particularly at this time when we are losing so many of our fine old buildings."
Numerous special meetings were called to monitor progress as the restoration began in early summer. At one of them, a woman from the congregation stood up to point out that the church had looked okay in white for many years "and the Hotel del Coronado looks pretty gorgeous in white, too." Another congregation member shook his head, and offered somewhat sarcastically that at least they didn't want to paint the church black.
At that point Freeberg sought to be reassuring. "We want to have the most gorgeous corner on Coronado," he said, "a church that is welcoming and dignified, and, we are going to do this right—which is one of the reasons we are having so many meetings just to consider ideas."
Another point of the meetings, obviously, was to keep the project within a snug budget of about $20,000.
Details lost in the current monochromatic environment, such as these carved floral ornaments in the entry pediment, will come forward when surrounded by trim accents in different colors.
Gibson and a small group of apprentices started burning off the layers of paint that had built up over many years, not to mention a stucco coating that at one time had been sprayed onto the steeple, covering up 28 ornamental rosettes. (The rosettes were removed and sent to San Francisco for turning and restoration; they now have been returned to the steeple, providing the church with one of its many decorative motifs.)
"What happens," Gibson explained as the burning process got under way, "is that these Victorians have been given so many coats of paint that the fine lines of ornament have disappeared. We have to start from scratch."
By early fall, enough burning and scraping had been completed so that the congregation could view the new color hues on a small section of the exterior that Gibson and his crew had painted as a test area. Coronadans scrutinized the color for four critical days. Congregation members tarried long on the corner to discuss the matter after one particular Sunday morning service.
It soon became evident that there were more "color" people in the crowd than there were advocates of the white, Freeberg said later. The church and Coronado city review boards voted to allow the color restoration to continue. Finally, this month it has been completed for Christmas with, not only a bright new facade for the holidays, but the antique bell in the steeple also restored and ready to ring in the New Year.
Future plans call for restoration of the complete block of buildings belonging to the religious complex, including the historic Kirk House, to be finished by 1988, the 100th anniversary of the founding of Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church.
The church itself was not built until 1890 with funds provided by Isabella Graham Babcock, wife of Elisha Spurr Babcock, who envisioned the legendary Coronado Tent City as "the most unique environment for sediv dwellers in the world." Babcock already was a wealthy entrepreneur who had made a fortune in railroading when he came to San Diego in 1883 to get away from the
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the Coronado Islands and Point Loma with its gentle, brush-covered mountain slopes and valleys appealed to him. So did the opportunity to enlarge his fortune. He formed a syndicate, purchased 7,000 acres of Coronado land for $110,000 and began to develop it. Meanwhile, he relocated his family and a pair of architects—James W. and Merritt Reid—to help accomplish the task.
The Reids knew Babcock from Evansville, where they had set up their own architectural firm in 1877 after a move from Boston. Both brothers were educated at McGill University and there is some reference to James, the senior of the two, as having attended the New School of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris.
Arriving here in 1886, the Reids' first task was the Hotel del (Coronado). That completed, they moved on to a variety of projects in the San Diego area and in San Francisco that were to mark them as premier turn-of-the-century West Coast architects. In 1889, the Reids opened a branch firm in San Francisco where they designed two of the Bay City's landmark buildings, the Fairmont Hotel (1906) and the Cliff House (1908).
Work has been completed on the restoration of the Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church. Shown here with the cross that now adorns the steeple of the church are the Reverend Jon D. Freeberg & Jim Gibson (right), the restorationist. Gibson painted the edges of the cross with gold leaf to create a brilliance that should be visible while crossing the Coronado Bay bridge.
In San Diego their work included the Gaslamp Quarter Keating Building (1891) and two other downtown buildings no longer in existence, the Fisher Opera House and the Hotel Josephine, as well as several residences. The greater Reid legacy, however, remains on Coronado including, beside the Hotel del and Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Kirk House (the former Hinde mansion at 959 C Avenue next to the church which now serves as the pastor's home) and the Christ Episcopal Church, almost across the street from the Graham Memorial Presbyterian, built in 1894 at Ninth and C streets.
The design of the two Coronado churches is, perhaps, most indicative of the Reids' range of style and flexible use of form and material. Constructed of massive gray stone quarried in Santee, the Christ Episcopal is Brobdingnagian in comparison to Graham Memorial Presbyterian. The latter is small, tidy, and, indeed, almost timid—a light-looking wooden structure along pure Victorian lines and lacking the high wedding-cake appearance of the Kirk House and the lower-key cakery of the Hotel del.
Simple though it was, Coronado residents delighted in the completion of the small church and, indeed, looked upon the design at the time as somewhat decorative. A report in The San Diego Union of October 2, 1890 noted, "The church is rapidly nearing completion and very well may prove one of the finest ornaments of the beach." Successive reports marveled over the stained glass, incandescent lighting ("modern" at the time) and frescoes suggesting "a very modest yet ornamental building." The congregation held its first service in "the handsome new edifice" on the last day of November 1890. The church, named to honor Mrs. Babcock's parents, John and Sarah Graham, [ Sarah Graham appears in other records as Susan Graham ] was formally dedicated on March 15 of the following year. [The name of the church in 1890 was First Presbyterian Church of Coronado. According to the church Session minutes, the name did not change to Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church of Coronado until March 1921.]
Almost as soon as it was completed, however, remodelers began making changes. Less than a decade passed before another report in The Union—this one near Christmas in 1899—noted that while guests at the big hotel were making merry (the merrymakers included Ulysses S. Grant who was visiting at the hotel and inspecting track-laying for the San Diegan-Sun's Sunset Railroad around the bay) over at Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church "a new furnace is being put in, the outside of the structure is receiving a new coat of paint and the lawn is getting the attention of gardeners."
The original church structure had an area of about 1,700 square feet. A chancel and a Sunday school area at the rear of the nave were added later, bringing the main building to its present 3,000 square feet. The parish hall that today stands attached to the rear of the sanctuary was added in 1927.
The church acquired the next-door Kirk House for office and the sexton's home in 1953. It, too, was designed by the Reid brothers and was built before the turn of the century for one of Babcock's business partners, Captain Charles T. Hinde. After Babcock's fall from financial grace, Hinde managed the Spreckels' interest on Coronado for several years. He died in 1915.
Declared a Coronado Historical Landmark in 1975, the Kirk House also is set for restoration but no decision has been made whether it, too, will be painted a color other than white.
Whatever the decision, Gibson feels the Kirk House shouldn't be the same as the church. "The buildings," he said, "represent two different styles of Victorian architecture and have distinctly different functions. Besides, to paint them the same might suggest the whole block as a condominium complex."
Stained Glass Windows Let the Light Shine Right In
April 16, 2003
By Vicki Raun
Published in Coronado Eagle & Journal
Congregations in two of Coronado's historic churches have special reasons to want Easter morning to be sunny. Both have stained glass windows nearly as old as their 19th century structures.
Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church
At Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church, a recent window is pictorial and shows Jesus with a child, a dove and flowers. The older windows on each side of the sanctuary are abstract designs that seem to evoke the grace of the Victorian era in which they were built. They actually are double-hung casement windows and the tops can be lowered. The windows are pointed arches, and looking up, a visitor can see how the frames are pieced together to fit the curves.
Sexton Larry Sand says he uses only vinegar and water to clean the windows. "Lead reacts to most cleaners today," Sand explained. All the windows were reinforced 20 years ago to strengthen them, and the rope in the pulleys is replaced about every 20 years. Maintaining the windows is "nothing scientific, just a little elbow grease," he said. Tender loving care is the best thing I can tell you."
Sand said he doesn't know the history of the windows, but believes they were installed at the same time the church was built. The designs of the windows at Graham are more uniform than the Christ Church windows, but Sand said they fit in a specific pattern. "You can tell if they are not in right," he said. Each of the tall, narrow windows weighs about 60 pounds. "You do not grab a window and walk away . . . they are very heavy windows," Sand said. While the designer of the windows is not known today, the beauty he or she created has inspired worshipers for over a hundred years.
Our First 100 Years, a booklet about the church history written by Elizabeth Huser from the congregation's Session minutes, states: "The year 1891 was a milestone for the new church. The congregational meeting minutes of March 18, 1891, include this entry: "This generous gift of Mrs. E. S. Babcock, who presented this church with a new and elegant house of worship together with four lots, was recognized and resolutions of thanks adopted."
Mrs. Babcock's husband Elisha Spurr Babcock, had just completed the building of the Hotel del Coronado. The architect of the church was James W. Reid, who, with his brother Merritt, were the architects of the hotel, and later of the Fremont Hotel and the Cliff House in San Francisco. The church was constructed of redwood in the same Victorian-Gothic style of the hotel, with fish-scaled shingles and stained glass windows. The belfry contained a rope-pulled bell.
Christ Episcopal Church
The Gothic Revival-style Christ Episcopal Church, at the corner of C and Ninth was completed in 1884. In 1890, Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church was built in Queen Anne Revival-style just a block away at Tenth and C. Both churches were designed by the Reid brothers, James W. and Merritt.
The windows at Christ Church were added in April 1899, according to "Our First One Hundred Years," a history of the church written by Ann Boyd in 1988. They were given as a memorial by Mr. and Mrs. N. A. Baldwin in memory of their daughter, Mrs. F. Martin Grinnell, according to "The Story of Our Windows," a brochure printed by the church.
San Francisco artist Bruce Porter designed the windows, which were created at the Tiffany Studios in New York of glass from Scotland. The windows were shipped to California by sail, traveling around the Horn of South America. Porter spent more than a year reassembling the windows in San Francisco, and they were then shipped to Coronado, again by sailing ship.
"Our First One Hundred Years," describes the theme of the windows: "Mr. Porter chose the vine as the decorative motif. The great east window, of light coloring, suggests the dawning of the new day. Here stand the two angels, among the iris, bearing the lamp and the scroll of the Scriptures—the symbols of the Light and the Truth. On the scroll is written John 14:6—"I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me."
At the top of this window is a magnificent rose window with the tracery encompassing the dove—the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Mr. Porter described this window as "Benediction Window"—the benediction of the light of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The side windows, in the nave and clerestory, were designed by the artist with a stark simplicity and a mother-of-pearl delicacy in order that they did not distract from the beauty of the other windows.The chancel windows are of the deep and rich tones of the close of the day. "Christ Waiting at the Door" offers a quiet peace to all who come. The two side lancets depict the symbols of the Communion.
The final cost for all the windows was over $6,100. (In 2003 dollars, that would be more than $127,000.)
Sexton Jess Martinez said that it is Mrs. Grinnell's face on the two angels who flank Jesus in the chancel windows. All the windows in the sanctuary of Christ Church are stained glass—including the clerestory windows. "Every 15–20 years they need releading," said Martinez, who has been sexton at Christ Church for 30 years.
To achieve the colors and light effects he wanted, Porter layered as many as three pieces of glass together in some of the windows. The weight makes the windows bow and buckle, and sometimes fracture. As the years have passed, replacing the cobalt blue glass has been difficult, and viewers who know where to look can find modern glass has been used in restorations over the years. "Bruce Porter was a journeyman at Tiffany," Martinez said. He pointed out a border of rock-cut gold glass framing the east window, saying that it is a Tiffany trademark.
It's the east window with its two angels that frames brides as they walk down the aisle. One bride's mother has told church staff that wedding photos show three angels behind her daughter, but she hasn't sent the photos to the church, leaving the mystery of the third angel unsolved.
At first glance, the floral designs in the side windows seem to be identical, but Martinez noted that each depicts a different type of flower. Windows depicting tulips, irises and other flowers were arranged in a specific order by Porter.
Another secret message is built into the church—Martinez took a visitor to the east wall of Hinde Hall. The construction and furnishing of the church was financed by Captain Charles T. and Eliza Hinde. He was a former Mississippi riverboat captain. The Hindes wanted the church to be a memorial to their daughter, Camilla, who died in 1879. Hinde was a modest man who didn't want a plaque in his honor placed on the building, Martinez said. However, the stonemasons cut and fitted the blocks above the windows so the mortar spells "HINDE." Martinez says the late Coronado historian Bunny MacKenzie pointed the name out to him.