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The First Unitarian Church was built in Berkeley in 1898 by the architect A.C. Schweinfurth (1863 - 1900). The building was designated as a City of Berkeley Landmark in 1891. The building currently serves as a dance studio for the Dramatic Arts Department of the University of California at Berkeley.


  • First Unitarian Church, Berkeley
  • First Unitarian Church, Berkeley
  • First Unitarian Church, Berkeley
  • First Unitarian Church, Berkeley (1923)
  • First Unitarian Church postcard (1915)

The First Unitarian Church of Berkeley was formed in 1891, originally in a building that was donated by the Odd Fellows Temple which was located at the time on Shattuck Street. According to the church's historian, Merv Hasselmann, the first meeting may have been held in a saloon. However, a more appropriate space was procured nearly from the start, thanks to the Odd Fellows Society of Berkeley.

Hasselmann has also suggested that the idea to found a Unitarian church in Berkeley may have come from Thomas Starr King, who was then serving as the second minister of the Unitarian Church of San Francisco. However, it was Charles William Wendte who can actually be credited with initiating the church's official founding in Berkeley. During its earliest beginnings, the First Unitarian Church in Berkeley had 32 members, yet this quickly grew to 100 members, whose names appear in the early rosters.

Many of the earliest members were also members of the Hillside Club, a local group which upheld the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement by advocating for design in harmony with nature. These members included the prominent Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck, along with his wife, Annie, in addition to the San Francisco-based architect, Julia Morgan, who was the first licensed female architect in California. This Unitarian church also served as the first meeting place for the Hillside Club.

The First Unitarian Church in Berkeley was designed by the architect A.C. Schweinfurth, the son of a German engineer. Schweinfurth designed the church in what has become known as the Bay Area Shingle style, which is associated with the Californian version of the early twentieth century Arts and Crafts Movement. Notable architectural features of the First Unitarian Church include Schweinfurth's exaggerated "squat" gabled roof-line and the huge rough-hewn beams of California redwood resting on "unpeeled redwood trunks" with their original bark still showing. Additional decorative elements also include the metal sash windows, a style borrowed from industrial designs. The side walls featured curved buttresses, which were structurally unnecessary; however, they suggest a playful nod to the medieval masonry churches of Europe which required buttresses for structural support.

In his design, which was considered revolutionary at the time, Schweinfurth combined elements of the old with the new. He integrated traditional elements within a reimagined modern synthesis, in much the way that the Unitarian faith sought to do. The First Unitarian Church building was designated as a City of Berkeley Landmark in 1891. Today, this building is the second oldest building that still exists on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. The former shingle-style church currently serves as a dance studio for the Dramatic Arts Department at the university.

Thompson, Daniella . "A.C. Schweinfurth: Architect", Berkeley Landmarks. January 1st 2013. Accessed March 9th 2020. https://berkeleyplaques.org/e-plaque/a-c-schweinfurth/?cat=41.

Hasselmann, Merv. "History of UUCB", Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. Accessed March 9th 2020. https://uucb.org/about-us/history/.

"First Unitarian Church", Berkeley Landmarks. Accessed March 9th 2020. http://berkeleyheritage.com/berkeley_landmarks/1unitarian.html.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Daniella Thompson, Berkeley Landmarks

Daniella Thompson, Berkeley Landmarks

Daniella Thompson, Berkeley Landmarks

Bancroft Archives, University of California at Berkeley

Berkeley Historical Plaque Project, Sarah Wikander collection