When any local from San Francisco utters the word "Dolores," one immediately conjures up the image of the sacred gathering place of all San Franciscans and not the building that gave the park its namesake.
Dolores Park may be a haven for those seeking to unwind from S.F. city living, but we suggest taking a trip back in time by visiting the building next door, which is older than the United States by a week.
Welcome to Mission San Francisco de Asís, San Francisco's oldest intact building.
Founded June 29, 1776, Mission Dolores, as it is affectionately called, was the center for Spanish monks/evangelists in their colonization of the Native Americans and the California coast for the Spanish Empire. Its founders were Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga, Father Francisco Palóu, Father Junipero Serra, all members of the de Anza Expedition.
This religious building is the oldest, intact mission of the (remaining) 21 others from that era in the Golden State, according to a tourist information pamphlet available at the door. The dimensions of the structure are 114 feet long, 22 feet wide with adobe walls 4 feet in thickness.
Mission Dolores is not to be confused with the much larger adjoining basilica next door. This structure was completed in 1918, since the original building prior was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The mission is the smaller adobe building covered with a coat of pristine white plaster that still has many of the originally architectural elements from the colonial days.
The original redwood logs supporting the roof still remain in place and the ceiling colors are vibrant, despite being close to 200 years old. They aren't pale and dusty, but they are bright and they seem to pulsate with electric vibrancy in shades of ochre, oxblood red, and a light shade of teal.
The main altar features baroque-style niches made out of cedar with gold leaf plating complete the engraved names of Christ and several saints. There are also the wooden figures of Jesus and the saints shown in pious and ecstasy-like reverence.
But the history of the sacred building isn't just cemented in the founding days of California -- but also in that of the the 20th century.
Alfred Hitchcock featured the Mission Dolores in one of his most iconic films, 1958's Vertigo. Inspector Scottie Ferguson, played by James Stewart follows Madeleine Elster, portrayed by Kim Novak, into Mission Dolores and out to the cemetery, where she lays flowers at the (fictional) grave of "Carlotta Valdes."
In 1987, Pope John Paul II held a prayer service at the ancient colonial altar for victims of AIDS, and in the adjoining basilica Pope blessed and had a dialogue with 62 patients suffering from the disease.
While we do encourage staying inside and admiring the local history of these clay walls, also consider visiting the museum next door, it features early relics from the mission days. Ultimately though, copy Kim Novak and go outside to the cemetery garden. While you won't find the tombstone of Carlotta Valdes, this is the final resting places of early Hispanic land barons whose namesakes grace some our favorite neighborhoods like Bernal Heights and Noe Valley.