Berkeley Observed

The Second Church of Christ Scientist

Susan Cerny

March 2003

A small, quiet church congregation, who probably thought no one noticed them at all, has become the center of a preservation effort to help them save their handsome church building.

The congregation of the Second Church of Christ Scientist, 1521 Spruce Street (Henry H. Gutterson, 1926), financially daunted by their obligation to retrofit the main sanctuary/auditorium under the City of Berkeley’s Unreinforced Masonry Ordinance, had instead decided to demolish it. A demolition application was submitted to the City on December 11, 2002. When the community heard about the possibility that this handsome building might be demolished, letters poured into the City in support of its preservation. The response was impressive and demonstrated how an unobtrusive, quiet, but beautiful building can be an important element in the definition of place.

The Second Church of Christ, Scientist is an outstanding example of the mature work of architect Henry Higby Gutterson, who graduated from the University of California in 1905 and then attended l’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

The church is significant for its architectural simplicity and the use of simple natural materials in an elegant way. It demonstrates the transition from the Period Revival Style toward modernism. Its style is generally Spanish Revival with details borrowed from the Renaissance. The church illustrates how well a rather large building can fit quietly into a residential neighborhood. The use of fire-resistant materials (a unique concrete block material called Thermotite was a response to the community’s concern following the 1923 Berkeley Fire. The main auditorium was constructed in 1926 and was given an Honor Award in 1927 by the Northern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The Sunday School, on the north side of the main church, also designed by Gutterson, was built in 1949.

Although Gutterson designed at least 20 residential buildings in this north Berkeley area which had been devastated by the 1923 Fire, the Second Church is his only non-residential design and is therefore the largest and most visible.

Other work by Gutterson in Berkeley include Jefferson School (at Rose and Sacramento streets) Berkeley High School’s Shop and Science Buildings and Community Theater, and the cottages and duplexes on Rose Walk. All of these are City of Berkeley Landmarks. Outside of Berkeley, the Flanders Mansion in Carmel, the Camp Fire Girls’ Headquarters in San Francisco, and the Third Church in Santa Barbara are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Gutterson was also the architect for the Sunday School addition (1927) to the First Church of Christ, Scientist (Bernard Maybeck, 1910) at 2619 Dwight Way.

The Second Church has cultural significance for its association with the Church of Christ, Scientist and is testimony to the large number of members that the Church had in Berkeley during the first half of the 20th century. It is an excellent example of the exceptionally high quality of Christian Science Church buildings throughout the United States, including the Mother Church in Boston.

It is hoped that the information gathered for the landmark application and new information about the way the church building was constructed, and in conjunction with the City Council, the Building Department, and the Landmark Preservation Commission, a less costly engineering solution can be found to retrofit the building and save it. The Landmarks Preservation Commission initiated the church early in December 2002. The application was withdrawn at the request of the congregation’s representatives.


Copyright © 2003–2014 BAHA. Text © 2003–2014 Susan Cerny. All rights reserved.