First Congregational Church

Story by Kay Weinstein
Award Recipients: The First Congregational Church of Alameda
First Congregational Church is receiving an award for good stewardship of its building for over 100 years. This jewel has been preserved for the twenty-first century due to excellent maintenance, improvements and restoration. An outstanding addition to the church is the disabled access ramp that is architecturally sensitive in design and function. Fine restoration is evident in the stained glass windows.
The First Congregational Church of Alameda is a striking example of the transitional and eclectic architectural forms that characterized much of California architecture at the turn of the twentieth century. It is a lovely blend of Gothic Revival, Queen Anne and Craftsman aesthetics. Gothic Revival is most known for the pointed arch; other style elements include highly pitched roofs, a sense of verticality, and use of wall dormers and pinnacles. Queen Anne is a picturesque Victorian style. Craftsman features a mix of materials, such as stone foundations and wood shingles.
The church was designed by prominent San Francisco architect, Franklin Oliver, and the builders were Delanoy and Randlett. The stained glass windows were made by the Lockwood Art Glass Company of Lafayette, Indiana. The entire cost was $35,000 in 1904. The church is of wood-frame construction, sheathed in a combination of Arizona red sandstone and cedar shingles. The cedar shingles have since been painted dark brown. Also, the cedar shingled roof has been replaced by asphalt composition roofing.
A modern feature of the church is the semi-circular School Room, arranged with thirteen classrooms, formed by rolling partitions, each looking towards the center. Beneath the School Room is a large Assembly Hall and kitchen. The proportions of all of the church rooms are exquisite. The rooms are filled with light from many windows.
Many improvements have been made to the church over the years such as indoor restrooms, electric lights, improved heating, a new organ, and an updated kitchen. Notable for integrative design is the disabled access ramp on the Chestnut St. exterior, leading down to the Assembly Hall (which contains disabled access restrooms). The ramp and an elevator serving three main floors were completed in 1998.

Thanks to decades of fundraising, the church is in an excellent state of preservation. In 2002, the stained glass windows were cleaned and re-leaded. Protective plexiglass panels were added to the inside of the stained glass windows, and to the outside of some. Ten years ago, a car damaged the Central Ave. exterior, and it was beautifully repaired. Maintenance and improvements continue to the present day.
The First Congregational Church was founded in Alameda in 1879, and has had a long commitment to social justice and community outreach. In the Congregational Church, the congregation elects its pastor. Rev. Dr. Laura Rose, the first openly Gay pastor, was elected in 2003 and installed as Senior Pastor in 2004.
The First Congregational Church is a City of Alameda Historical Monument. In 2000, Alameda Architectural Preservation Society recognized the church for beauty and restoration. The mayor proclaimed March 25, 2004, its 100th anniversary, as First Congregational Church of Alameda Day. Today we award First Congregational Church with a bronze plaque for good stewardship of their building for over 100 years. We thank church historians, Ann Beret Johnsen and Virginia Krutilek, for sharing extensive knowledge of their beloved church. Thanks also to Eric Hartz for technical assistance with historic images.