Just to give you a little perspective, here is a superfast three-century history of Noe Valley and the Ministry. Before San Francisco’s European settlement, what we know as Noe Valley was occupied by the Costanoan and Ohlone tribes, who hunted, gathered, and lived in temporary tule reed dwellings. It was highly desirable real estate even then as it contained springs and hills for protection from ocean winds and rain.
With the construction of Mission Dolores in 1776, Noe Valley was used agriculturally to support the Mission. In 1845, Mexican Governor Pico granted Jose de Jesus Noe, one of the last Mexican magistrates of Yerba Buena, 4,443-acres that became the San Miguel Rancho. Noe established a ranch on the land and constructed buildings in the valley that now bears his name.
In 1853, John Horner purchased Rancho San Miguel from Noe for $200,000. “Horner’s Addition” changed from a sparsely populated area of small farms and dairies to a more densely developed neighborhood in the 1880s when it burgeoned with residences, grocery stores, bars, stables, doctors’ offices, churches and fire stations. The community was comprised primarily of working class residents. Many of the homes in Noe Valley were constructed by carpenter-builders who charged $290-360 per room for cottages.
Local transportation advanced in tandem with Noe Valley’s growing population. The neighborhood was first served by the Macadamized Road, a privately-owned toll road built in 1862. It ran from the vicinity of Mission Dolores to the ocean. In 1877, SF’s Board of Supervisors purchased the road to create a free public highway. In the 1880s, the Castro Street and 24th Street cable cars replaced steam-operated transit cars and Noe Valley became better connected to other neighborhoods.
The area was not substantially impacted by the 1906 Earthquake or the fire. In fact, Noe Valley provided water, food and shelter to earthquake refugees from other parts of San Francisco. After the earthquake, the neighborhood experienced another surge of growth as San Francisco’s displaced population settled in the undamaged area.
Built in 1881, the Ministry building was in response to a neighborhood request for Sunday School. It has continuously functioned as a Presbyterian church and it was originally called Lebanon Church, from the biblical reference to the cedars of Lebanon. A historically significant building — a prime example of the Victorian Gothic style as the Carpenter Gothic style — it is one of a handful of wood frame churches surviving San Francisco’s 1906 disaster.
From Noe Valley’s initial development to the present day, the neighborhood has been characterized as a residential village within the larger city of San Francisco. Construction thrived from 1906 to World War II as houses, flats, and storefronts were built in response to the influx of working people. After the Depression, and again after World War II, many families divided their single family homes into multiple family dwellings that could be rented out.
As the number of commercial businesses on the 24th Street corridor increased, the cost of the rent in the area also increased. A 1970 SF Examiner article noted that the character of Noe Valley had changed as young, single professionals moved to the area and as it became heavily populated by renters rather than working-class home owners. While Lebanon Church was a large and active church in its heyday, by the early 1970s, its congregation had dwindled; it no longer had the resources to continue.
In 1979, the church was reborn. With it came a renaissance of community, spirit, and even a name-change. The congregation reclaimed its place as an active urban church. In concert with renewed church growth came the transformation of Noe Valley itself. As it became increasingly family and community-oriented, it was clear that the area required a “hub” for its heart and soul. The Noe Valley Ministry has well earned its reputation as a center for neighborhood and community, a place for outreach, healing, creativity, spirituality, refreshment, opportunity and enrichment.