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Sunday, April 04, 1982

St. Peter’s Tiffany windows

Ernest D. Wichels

Next Sunday is Easter, and as we think of this highlight of the Christian calendar, we also are reminded that . Vallejo is the repository of 16 of the rarest stained glass windows in this country.

The use of decorative glass windows goes back to Egyptian times and reached a high point during the Middle Ages in medieval cathedrals. St. Peter’s Chapel, Mare Island (within the city limits of Vallejo), is fortunate to possess some of the finest examples of modern craftsmanship. It has 29 stained glass windows, of which 16 are by Tiffany Studios the hallmark of excellence in this category.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, the artist son of the founding president of the New York jewelry firm Tiffany Co., is considered by many of today’s historians as the originator and innovator of modern art work in translucent glass.  The 16 windows in St. Peter’s form one of the outstanding collections of stained glass memorials under one roof in California and possibly the entire western United States.

The names of the persons and groups to whom they are dedicated gives this group an unusual national significance.  Most of these windows were installed and dedicated in this naval chapel between 1906 and 1930.

During the 1981 Tiffany exhibit in the De Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, several bus tours came to Mare Island because the interest and the excitement in the artistry of these windows reached far beyond our city and county.  The 9-foot circular Rose Window was dedicated in 1930.

The rest of the 15 windows are memorials to:

U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Turner and U S. Marine Corps U. William C. Turner, 1906.

A Navy medical director, George Worth Woods, 1907.

A Navy pay director, William W. Williams, 1906.

Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Tingley Craven, Mare Island commandant, who built the beautiful home at 626 Virginia St. in 1869, one of the city’s oldest.

Naval constructor Samuel W. Armistead and George W. Street.

Navy Rear Adm. Rodgers, commandant, who saw duty in the Vallejo-built Monitor Monadnock (at the foot of Santa Clara Street), and for whom a street is named; dedicated in 1908.

Navy Rear Adm. Charles H. Baldwin, also a commandant, 1906.

Navy Rear Adm.. Thomas S. Phelps, 1905.

A Navy pay director, James Fulton, 1908.

Navy Rear Adm. B.H. McCalla, Mare Island commandant, who played an important part in the effort to halt the San Francisco fire following the earthquake of 1906, and whose wife is affectionately known as the “mother” of the Navy YMCA that stood on Santa Clara Street for 50 years.

The founder of St. Peter’s, U.S. Navy Chaplain Adam A. McAlister, who also served as rector at one time of Vallejo’s Ascension Episcopal Church.

Rear Adm. Philip C. Johnson, 1906.

Navy Captain W. Coffin, 1908.

Navy John W. Dannenhover, navigator of the USS Jeannette “on its famous Artic expedition in 1908.

Marine Coos Col. Charles F. Williams.

This family known locally:

Williams was the father of Mrs. John M. Ellicott, and grandfather of Josie Kingsbury, who died in 1981. Three other generations of the family live here today.  The three large stained glass windows on the street frontage of St. Peter’s also have won wide acclaim. They are not by Tiffany, but were made in San Francisco by Ingerson and Glaser.

The original triad was almost completed when the earthquake-fire of April 18, 1906, destroyed it. It was redone and dedicated on Aug. 8, 1907, to honor three naval officers prominent in the history of our state.  They are Adm. David Glasgow Farragut, first commandant of Mare Island; Rear Adm. John Drake Sloat, who took, possession of California at Monterey July 7, 1846; and Commodore Robert Field Stockton, who completed the occupation of California in 1846-47.

At the dedication, -Vallejo pioneer and banker Samuel J. McKnight accepted the window on behalf of the donors: “the citizens of San Francisco, friends of these persons, and Native Sons of the Golden West.”

Among those present for the dedication were U.S. Sen. George C. Perkins and Congressman Joseph R.. Knowland.  These 26 stained glass windows, the 40 wood-carved tablets in the ceiling and bronze plaques on the walls have all been contributed by relatives, friends or patriotic groups.

All of these make St. Peter’s,. the oldest non-sectarian chapel in the U.S. Navy, a historic memorial of nationwide significance.  The complete story of these memorials, and pictures of the 29 windows in full color, is available in the “St. Peter’s History” at the Vallejo and Naval Historic Museum Book Store, and at the Prometheus Book Store.