Saint John Coltrane Church Faces ‘Forced’ Eviction After Rent Doubles

The Saint John Coltrane Church in San Francisco faces eviction. The church has been in San Francisco for nearly 50 years but has changed its name and location several times. Saint John Coltrane Church believes that late born-again jazz musician John Coltrane is their guiding and protecting saint. The Saint John Coltrane Church may have to move again due to rising costs of rent, according to an SFist report over two weeks ago.

News about Saint John Coltrane Church’s possible eviction is circulating again weeks after the story first broke. A recent report by the Raw Story claims the African-American church is being forced out of the neighborhood due to gentrification. According to the Raw Story, the neighborhood surrounding Fillmore Street where Saint John Coltrane Church currently resides is trying to use a housing and affordability crisis to push out the rest of the African-American population.

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The Fillmore District, a portion of San Francisco’s Western Addition that was redeveloped in the 1950s, was reportedly once known as the “Harlem of the West” due to having a history deeply rooted in jazz culture. African-American jazz musicians migrated to the Fillmore District during the Second Great Migration, starting in the early 1940s. Millions of African Americans migrated from the South to the West in search of jobs, mainly to work in shipyards.

A migration that lasted nearly 30 years brought jazz singers, composers, and musicians to Fillmore District nightclubs. Early careers of some of the more well-known jazz musicians, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and John Coltrane, began in the Fillmore District.

What was once called the Yardbird Temple became the Saint John Coltrane Church in 1982. Founders Franzo and Marina King decided to name their church, which was once their jazz club, after American jazz writer and saxophonist John Coltrane. The couple turned their San Francisco jazz club into a religious organization following the death of John Coltrane in 1967. Franzo and Marina say they heard the spirit of the Holy Ghost transfer through the sound of John Coltrane when they first heard him play live in San Francisco in 1965.

According to the Kings, Coltrane was trying to spiritually reach all souls through his sound. The Kings came to this conclusion after meeting Coltrane’s wife in 1974. Eight years later, the Kings joined the African Orthodox Church denomination and renamed their church the Saint John Will I Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, or Saint John Coltrane Church for short, believing that John Coltrane is their patron saint. After going through three other names prior to settling on Saint John Coltrane Church, the Kings have held five-hour jam sessions every Sunday since 1982, ending their musical mass with Coltrane’s best-selling 1964 album, A Love Supreme.

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The lease on Saint John Coltrane Church’s current location in the West Bay Conference Center has ended, and Archbishop Franzo King says the landlord is doubling the rent on the 1286 Fillmore Street building, where the church has been for several years. The Kings would like to keep Saint John Coltrane Church in the city where it was founded and has stayed for the last 48 years, but they say their backs are against the wall with the huge increase in rent.

What the Kings are calling a “profit over people” climate is devastating the African-American population in Fillmore.

“Presently the population and culture of the African American community has all been but destroyed, along with its learning institutions, churches and venues of musical expression. The Coltrane Church has and will continue its stance against this kind of injustice.”

A petition that was started two weeks ago on Change.org already has nearly 4,000 supporters. Only a little over 1,000 more supporters are needed on the “Hands Off the Coltrane Church” petition before the Kings can present it to Supervisor London Breed and Mayor Ed Lee in an attempt to fight back against what they are calling a forced exodus of the Saint John Coltrane Church out of the Fillmore District.

[Image via Shutterstock/Andrey Burmakin]