To find the heart of San Francisco, you need to head south of Market Street, not to the Castro District teeming with people who very publicly define themselves by the perverse acts in which they engage, but to the Mission District.
Here is where the most beautiful of American cities was founded -- not by 49ers, beatniks, hippies or homosexuals, but by devout and dedicated Spanish Franciscans who crossed half the world to bring their faith to a new land.
Mission Dolores is not just the heart of San Francisco, she symbolizes its soul. The Franciscans founded the mission on June 29, 1776, just as American patriots on the other side of the continent were preparing to declare their independence from England with a document that said all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
Unlike some of the European settlers on the Eastern side of the continent, the priests who founded San Francisco did not bring slaves or try to rationalize human bondage. What they did bring was the best of European civilization -- teaching the indigenous people how to farm and raise livestock and what the priests deeply believed was the one true faith.
Even though these priests named their mission for St. Francis, the church building itself popularly took on the name of Our Lady of Sorrows, which the missionaries had bestowed on a nearby stream.
These pioneers completed the permanent structure of Dolores in 1791. For more than 220 years, what they built has stood strong and intact, the oldest surviving structure in a city where earthquakes and fires and changing fashions have been the ruin of virtually every other venerable thing capable of destruction by man or nature.
Though Mission Dolores itself will surely someday crumble, the truth it represents has not, will not and cannot die.
To those who did not know 20th century San Francisco, the city must have seemed a place in constant cultural flux, where in each passing generation the latest fad in lifestyles briefly took hold and was then swept away.
But under the flotsam and jetsam of the pop cultural trends that moved in and out of the city on decadal tides, the deeper culture of San Francisco remained a solid rock. Like most other American cities of the past century, it was mostly populated by working- and middle-class people dedicated to raising their children to believe in the things that made America great -- hard work, traditional morality, faith in God.
But that underlying bedrock began eroding in the late 1970s, when the homosexual movement arrived in the city.