Christmas at the Orphanage

by Laurie Thompson

Children from the Orphanage with Christmas Tree, 1912 © Pacific Monthly, Jan. 1912

Marin Journal, Jan. 3, 1901:

This is the first Christmas that the children of the Presbyterian Orphanage have held in their new building in San Anselmo and this was the first time they were visited by a real Santa Claus.

The regular Christmas exercises were held on Monday evening and a fine program was rendered by the children, all of whom were present, from the youngest to the oldest….

San Francisco Presbyterian Orphanage Building in San Anselmo, c.1900 © San Anselmo History Museum

After the program, the children waited quietly and anxiously for the appearance of Santa Claus and were not disappointed, for soon he came trooping in with a large bag of Christmas presents on his back. Some of the children who had fallen asleep on the front seats awoke with a start to enjoy the feature of the evening. Santa Claus related some of his adventures in India and then distributed presents to the hundred and twenty merry faces…..

Aerial view of San Anselmo with the Presbyterian Orphanage Building in the middle of the image, c.1900 © San Anselmo History Museum


The San Francisco Presbyterian Orphanage — today’s Sunny Hills Services [Now Side By Side] — opened on February 22, 1895 in a rented house in San Rafael. By 1898, the Orphanage needed more space and a three-story building was erected on a 20-acre parcel in San Anselmo. The new building was dedicated on February 10, 1900. It burned to the ground on May 2, 1922. Today, that site is occupied by the Parkside Apartments.

Thanks to Judy Coy of the San Anselmo Historical Museum for contributing the images.

For additional information on the history of Sunny Hills we suggest the following:

1. Spitz, Barry. San Anselmo: A Pictorial History. 2003.

2. Coy, Judy. Images of America: San Anselmo. 2013.

Originally published at



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