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Looking Back at the Oldest(?) Building in San Francisco

Public spaces change fast here in San Francisco, and for better or worse, it can be pretty crazy when you see what the City used to look like. Every week, we'll bring you Then & Now, a comparison of historic photos of the Bay Area with current views from the same perspective. Have a suggestion for a photo comparison that looks totally different (or shockingly the same)? Drop us a tip in the Curbed Inbox or leave a comment after the jump.

Quick note: See that vertical green bar in the middle of the then and now photos? You can move it horizontally to see the photos side by side.

[1856 Then photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY/ Now photo: Google Maps] Sometimes we forget to highlight the city's most famous historic sites because, well, everyone already knows about them. But that doesn't make them any less impressive. In honor of it's basilica's 100th birthday, today we're taking a look back at the city's (arguably) oldest building – the original Misión San Francisco de Asís – better known as Mission Dolores.

Mission Dolores has been studied and talked about at length, so we'll give the Cliffsnotes version. The first California mission was established by Father Junipero Serra near San Diego in 1769. 21 other California missions followed, with Spanish priests travelling along El Camino Real between San Diego and Sonoma. Mission Dolores was named for St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order, but was commonly referred to Dolores for its proximity to a spring and small stream nearby called Nuestra Senora de los Dolores.

Mission Dolores with previous brick chuch, 1884 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY/ Now photo: Google Maps]

Misión San Francisco de Asís was founded on June 29, 1776, by members of the de Anza Expedition Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga and Father Francisco Palóu. The first mass was held in a temporary structure made of logs and thatch near what today is Camp and Albion Streets, with the adobe mission church constructed and completed by Christianized Native Americans in 1791. After the Gold Rush, Yerba Buena became a sort of entertainment district, with saloons, gambling halls, and racetracks, but the Mission remained. A large Gothic Revival brick church was built next to the original Mission by 1876, though it was destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire (amazingly the adobe Mission survived). In 1913, construction began on the new basilica, later inspired by the 1926 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego.

Mission Dolores Basilica, built 1913 [Photo: Noehill]

The original adobe Mission had a historic-in-its-own-right restoration in 1917 by local historic starchitect Willis Polk. Last year Oakland-based CyArk used laser scanning and digital modeling to document all the 21 missions, revealing images at Mission Dolores of the 1791 Ohlone-painted mural that was blocked behind a 200-year-old Mexican relief sculpture.

Scan of the alter at Mission Dolores [Photo: Cyark]

An eternal nerd fight continues over whether Mission Dolores is actually the oldest surviving building in San Francisco. Some say the Presidio's Officer Club is older since remnants of its original adobe structure date to 1776.

Adobe walls of Presidio's Officer Club [Photo: Scott Hess]

· Mission Timeline [California Mission Resource Center]
· Misión San Francisco de Asís [Noehill]
· Mission Dolores [California Place Names via Google Books]
· Building in San Francisco's Presidio could be oldest in The City [SF Examiner]
· Previous Coverage of Mission Dolores [Curbed SF archives]

Mission Dolores Basilica

3321 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94114