April 02, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

Some songs or even song fragments never go away. I’ve had the second verse of the 1960’s hit California Dreamin’ stuck in my head for the last few days. “Stopped into a church I passed along the way. Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray. You know the preacher likes the cold; he knows I’m gonna stay….” It suddenly occurred to me that someone in the group must have visited a church under similar circumstances, drawing on the experience when they wrote the song. So there must be an actual church associated with this lyric that I’ve had in my head since the late 1960’s when I first heard it on the radio.  Listen for yourself if you need a refresher:


According to SongFacts, California Dreamin’ was written by Michelle and John Phillips in 1963. The newlyweds were living in New York City. A Wikkipedia entry says John dreamed about the song and asked his wife to help him write it when he woke up. Michelle, in addition to being homesick, also liked visiting churches. She and John had stopped in to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue several days before, so that was the inspiration for the second verse.

Apparently, John wasn’t very happy with the verse, his childhood parochial school experiences turned him off to churches specifically and religion in general. They tried to write other verses, but none of them were better, so eventually, they left the church verse intact. Several years later, the duo were joined by Mama Cass and Denny Doherty forming the Mamas and the Papas and the song was their first hit.

St_Patricks_interior_in_the_1960s.jpgThis is a picture of St. Patrick’s in the 1960’s, as it may have looked when the Phillips’ lived close by. Though even then, the church was a major tourist destination. I doubt Michelle and John needed to pretend to pray to actually stay in from the cold for a while.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, 5th Avenue between 50th/51st Streets, New York, NY 

Sacred Architecture