The land on which the First Unitarian Church of Oakland stands upon was purchased in November 1888 from Jane K. Sather, a patron of the University of California. Construction of the Church began in 1890 and was completed in September 1891, although it was used for various activities while still unfinished. The building was designed in by Walter J. Mathews in a solid masonry Romanesque Revival style which departed radically from California's then predominant wood framed Carpenter Gothic style churches. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake damaged the building heavily but did not destroy it. The church is listed as California Historical Landmark and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The church was originally founded in 1869 by a Reverand name Laurentine Hamilton, who had previously been a minister at the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland but was charged with heresy and forced to resign his ordination. Most of his parish joined him, and formed a new church, the First Independent Presbyterian church, which later became the Independent Church of Oakland.
By 1886, the new reverend, Charles Wendte, reorganized Church into the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. They constructed this Romanesque style church for their congregation in 1891 and have been there ever since. During construction of the church and for at least a few years afterwards, the minister lived in a house on the opposite side of 14th Street.
Since the Church's inception, the neighborhood has changed dramatically. The Oakland Public Library was built next door in 1904 and by 1910 an apartment building was built across the street which signalled the changing of the area into a working class one with subdivided houses and apartments. By 1951, there was a police garage and fire station on Grove Street a block away and in the 1960s, the route of the Grove-Shafter freeway was established west of the church across Castro Street.