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Historical Roots:
Unitarian Church of Alameda

When we began meeting for worship in Alameda, we were not aware that a Unitarian Church had existed on the island from approximately 1890-1933. And that congregation erected a church building which still exists just a half block from where we currently meet.

Unitarian Church of Alameda c. 1900For those of you interested in our historical Alameda roots, here is a bit of information and some links. In time, we hope to learn more about our Unitarian and Universalist foremothers and forefathers here. And note: our roots do go back to BOTH Unitarianism and Universalism.

The building pictured (right) is an historical photo of the Unitarian Church of Alameda (1516 Grand St., Alameda) from the early part of the 20th century. In 1961 an arsonist set fire to the building (no longer owned by the Unitarians, see below). Damage was severe. Much of the old sanctuary with its exposed beams, stained glass windows and a pipe organ was destroyed by fire and smoke. The Assemblies of God congregation (now called Calvary Christian Center) which owned the building then (and now), rebuilt and remodeled the structure. Take a look at another photo, one that shows the structure as it looks today.

In 1933 or 1934, the Unitarian Church of Alameda leased its building to Glad Tidings Tabernacle of the Assemblies of God (now the Calvary Christian Center). A few years later, in 1937, the Unitarian congregation sold the building to Glad Tidings for $5,000. When originally built in 1894, the building cost $8,430 (according to the website of the Cavalry Christian Center).

We have learned a few more details about the Unitarians on Alameda. The minutes of the congregation's trustees date back to 1888. The first minister, as far as we can determine, was Eliza Tupper Wilkes, a circuit-riding preacher who started eleven Universalist and Unitarian churches in the American West. Because of a heart condition, in her later years she spent winters in California. It was in the winter of 1890-91 that she served the Alameda congregation.

You might find it interesting to read this short article from the Pacific Unitarian which describes the Dedication of the Alameda Church. The article is on pages 200-201. (The link should take you directly there.)

The name of the church in 1900 appears to have been The First Unitarian Society. By 1919, we believe it was called the Unitarian Church of Alameda. The church seems to have folded in 1933.

Thanks to Cliff Wunderlich, Head of Access and Research Services, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, we now have a PDF copy of a page which lists the ministers and their dates of service at the Alameda Unitarian Church. This comes from: List of the Unitarian churches and their ministers in the United States and Canada, [Lancaster, Mass., 1947?], Weis, Frederick Lewis, 1895-1966, comp. This list (housed at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library) was compiled largely from Unitarian directories (not from original sources), so sometimes the dates are wrong by a year or so.

We also know the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School houses more records from the church (see below). At some point, we may decide to request photocopies of some or all of these records.

Description of Andover-Harvard holdings: Three boxes

Summary: Church trustees’ minutes, 1888-1895, 1900-1909, 1923-1933; membership book, 1890-1930; cash ledger, 1925-1929; marriage, baptismal, and death record book, 1904-1926; and photographs.

Language note: English.
Notes: Handwritten and typescript.
Cite as: First Unitarian Society of Alameda (Oakland), California, Records, bMS 453; Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School. http://www.hds.harvard.edu/library/bms/bms00453.html

 

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