St. Anselm’s “church-in-the-round” design is a good example of the phrase “every old is new again.” It was an evolution of a model that is one of the oldest patterns of church construction, and was used in the earliest Christian buildings. Its architectural intent was to express the ideal of the Book of Common Prayer and early Christianity, emphasizing a high degree of participation by the congregation. A priest of the mid-20th century summed it up well when he said “The Church is first and foremost a family. Therefore we sit facing one another, rather than looking at the backs of one another’s heads as does an audience; we are a congregation, those called together.”
The design of St. Anselm’s follows that of the Chapel of St. James the Fisherman in Wellfleet, Massachusetts . Bishop Pike, who was the bishop when St. Anselm was first commissioned, attended church there during his summer vacations and loved the design, so he encouraged the new congregation to adopt it as a model.
The San Francisco architectural firm of Marquis and Stoller designed the building, with the assistance of St. James’ architect Olav Hammarstrom, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Mr. Hammarstrom and his wife, Marie, stayed with the Reverend Clarence H. Stacey, the congregations first vicar. Rev. Stacey was an assistant to the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Alameda and had worked in the business world for many years before entering the priesthood. He also had experience in new church start-ups. As a seminarian he had been in charge of establishing two missions in San Francisco and Morgan Hill. Rev. Stacey, his wife Eleanor, and their two children, Charles and Margaret, moved into the property nextdoor, which served as a vicarage while the church was being built. Stacey and Hammarstrom became close friends as a result. Harold Speagle of Berkeley was the main contractor.