Gentrification Hits The Church? St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church Days Away From Eviction

St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church faces eviction this week from its home in the Fillmore District. The church was founded in 1971 by Archbishop Franzo King and his wife, Reverend Marina King. St. John Coltrane has been a staple in the city, and known as a place of worship and a leader in social justice movements for decades.

The Fillmore District has its roots in African American culture, nicknamed “the Harlem of the West.” The Kings were inspired by John Coltrane’s, a legendary jazz musician, performance of A Love Supreme. Archbishop and Reverend King named their church after him, adorning the sanctuary with painting of Coltrane and black replicas of Mary and Jesus.

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The church is a one story storefront with its original frame. With the renting crisis in San Francisco, eviction is almost inevitable. The West Bay Conference Center own the property and has said that the church leaders have not paid rent for the space in over a year.

“You can’t run a facility on promises, on prayers, and on saying you are a historical institution,” Amos Brown, a center board member and NAACP official in San Francisco, said Curtis Skinner from Reuters.

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar is advocating for the church, aiding in its eviction fight. Negotiations between St. John’s Coltrane African Orthodox Church and West Bay Conference Center ended abruptly in December, 2015, regarding back rent. St. John Coltrane has the money to pay, but West Bay is not accepting back payments.

Some argue this is another example of the city’s decades long black exodus. The Fillmore District was once a thriving black community. The shift of population in Fillmore began in the 1960s, when urban renewal programs targeted low-income, minority neighborhoods for redevelopment. These programs continue in today’s technology boosting efforts.

The share of black residents has dropped by more than half since the 1970s, according to census figures, to 6.1 percent in 2010 from 13.4 percent in the 1970s.

The church has a court hearing on Wednesday to stop the eviction. The City of San Francisco has told the congregation to vacate the storefront by Wednesday, but Archbishop King wants his day in court. He wants a judge to give him and the St. John’s Coltrane congregation a chance to catch up on their rent. If the eviction is successful, Archbishop King has said it would be unlikely to find a new location in the more expensive San Francisco, but he is optimistic.

“We can probably find places to hold a service,” he said. “But to put a chapel together or a sanctuary […] I don’t think that’s going to be the easiest thing to do.”

According to Houston Public Media, King believes gentrification has played a role in the city of San Francisco pushing out him and the members of St. John’s Coltrane.

“I think it’s about profit mainly,” King says.

He went on to say the eviction has political and financial undertones. He believes the church is a historical monument that gives a voice to the downtrodden and it will not leave unless absolutely necessary.

Archbishop King is looking on the bright side until the court’s decision is made. Sunday’s services were held as usual, beginning with a guided meditation on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. He is running his church as normal in the interim.

If the church is forced to move, he plans on expanding his vision. He wants to open up a Coltrane University and study center that is impossible to implement into the small storefront space. Until then, he has called on the city to protect the neighborhood institution.

“This is a global spiritual community. It belongs to the world,” King says. “But San Francisco is the custodians of this. And officials in this city, from the supervisors to the mayor, should feel the responsibility to protect the house of a love supreme.”

Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who represents the Fillmore, said she is working with Archbishop King about moving St. John’s Coltrane to a small theater space in the Fillmore Heritage Center. But he wants to remain at his current storefront for foundation reasons.

[Photo by Jeff Chiu/AP Images]