The first location of St. John’s was originally St. James Episcopal Church at Post Street near Mason. It was erected in 1866. In 1870, St. John’s purchased the building for $45,000 and began worshiping there on March 6, 1870. Dr. William Anderson Scott, who also founded the San Francisco Theological Seminary, was named as pastor, serving from May 1870 until his death on January 14, 1885. During his tenure, membership flourished, and the original 61 parishioners grew to 382.
Following Dr. Scott's death, the church in 1888 moved to its second home at California and Octavia.
The interior of the new building was much the same as the original: the 1872 pews, pulpit, and transept arch were moved from the first site. By the end of the century, St. John's was in dire straits, with a large mortgage and waning membership. Calvary Presbyterian, St. John's sister church, proposed sharing St. John's facility while Calvary built a new structure. Calvary assumed the mortgage and the two pastors shared leadership. On completion of Calvary's church, there was discussion of disbanding St. John's and uniting with Calvary. But Arthur W. Foster, one of Dr. Scott's sons-in-law, believed the growing city needed a new Presbyterian church. In 1902, he offered to assist St. John's congregation in moving to a new location and expanding its ministry west into the developing Richmond district.
The congregation accepted the challenge and chose our present site, surrounded by sand dunes and enshrouded by fog. The first service was held on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1906. Three days later the church was heavily damaged in the great earthquake of 1906. The congregation held services in members' homes until repairs were completed a year later. Arthur Foster then turned over the deed to the congregation with the charge: "be rich in spirit and free of debt."
The history of the church in its present location parallels the development of the Richmond District. Rows and rows of homes replaced the sand dunes; the congregation grew in number. The church was always responsive to the needs of the community. After the earthquake and fire of 1906, food and shelter were provided to refugees encamped in the neighborhood and in Golden Gate Park. During the Depression in the 1930s, food and job referrals were provided to the unemployed. In World Wars I and II, special programs were organized for soldiers stationed at the Presidio, and the women of the church provided handmade socks, sweaters, afghans, quilts, as well as bandages for the American Red Cross. St. John’s is rich in history; and today, St. John’s still strives to be involved in our community.
St. John's was used as a location in the 1993 movie, "So I Married an Axe Murderer" starring Mike Myers.
St. John's was featured in Paul Madonna's "All Over Coffee" cartoon."
St. John's was a location in the 1998 movie, "Little City" starring Jon Bon Jovi.
St. John's has an exterior "cameo" role in the 2007 movie, "Zodiac" starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.