California's first cathedral was started in 1853 by an Irish entrepreneur determined to give wayward San Francisco some religion – despite the cathedral's location on brothel-lined Dupont St. The 1906 earthquake miraculously spared the church's brick walls but destroyed a bordello across the street, making room for St Mary's Sq. Today, skateboarders do tricks of a different sort in the park, under the watchful eye of Beniamino Bufano's 1929 pink-granite-and-steel statue of Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen.
Eventually the archdiocese abandoned attempts to convert Dupont St and handed the church over to America's first Chinese community mission, run by the activism-oriented Paulists. During WWII, Old St Mary's served 450,000 members of the US armed forces as a cafeteria and recreation center. Since WWII, the church has hosted regular Tuesday noontime concerts to offer midday respite in troubling times (http://noontimeconcerts.org; suggested donation $5).