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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tourism for Locals: Dressing Up St. Paul's Catholic Church for Sister Act

Posted By on Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 10:30 AM

This Noe Valley parish was dressed up to look like it belonged in Hunter's Point. - FICKR/ HERCWAD
  • Fickr/ hercwad
  • This Noe Valley parish was dressed up to look like it belonged in Hunter's Point.

It's finally October and, with Halloween quickly approaching, we're planning our costume. Yet donning costumes isn't only a characteristic of human beings, but also inanimate objects; more specifically: San Francisco architecture. 

In 1992, a local San Francisco church was transformed to look like it was part of a run-down neighborhood for a Hollywood production that would become one of the most financially successful comedies during the 1990s.

The film? Sister Act. The house of worship? St. Paul's Catholic Church in Noe Valley. 

Sister Act stars stars Whoopi Goldberg as a Reno lounge singer who has been put under protective custody in the Convent of the Poor Clares in San Francisco and has to pretend to be a nun when a mob boss puts her on his hit list. Throughout the film, Goldberg's character injects humor and music into the somber cloister community and the surrounding downtrodden neighborhood.  Even though the story line is fictional, the film's setting, to a point, is not.

Located at 221 Valley Street at the corner of Church Street, the 103 year-old religious temple has not only survived all of Sister Whoopi's antics but also earthquakes and various seismic retrofittings and restorations. Construction of the local English Gothic landmark began in 1897 and it was dedicated by Archbishop Patrick William Riordan in 1911. The architect was Frank T. Shea, who is known for his work on other religious and secular structures in the Bay Area. 

Although this particular religious edifice is a well-known and locally recognized Noe Valley site, it underwent a gritty makeover to make it, and the surrounding neighborhoods, unrecognizable. While the parish — called "St.Katherine's Parish" in the film — is in a quiet and upscale middle class neighborhood, the surrounding area was redressed to make it appear that the church was part of a poorer district like the Tenderloin or Bayview. Storefronts were recast temporarily and the streets were made to appear rundown, complete with abandoned automobiles and trash tumbling in the San Francisco fog. 

But no amount of Hollywood magic could ever diminish the City's charm, which shines through in the film. Our City is too much of its own character to ever be hidden through cinematic scenery cover ups. We've seen it proven in other films like Vertigo, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Pal Joey

So pop in for a visit to our local cinematic history. While being respectful of this religious sanctuary, we suggest humming (or singing, if you dare) a religious hymn like those orchestrated in the film. You'll probably get a disapproving glance, but just shake it off like it's no big Whoop(i).
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About The Author

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda is a cultural correspondent with a concentration in tourism, literature, and lifestyle and has been writing for SF Weekly since 2013. As an avid traveler, he enjoys discovering destinations abroad as well as the never-ending hidden gems of San Francisco. #DondeAndaJuanDeAnda?


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