Berkeley Observed

Churches remain important south-of-campus institutions

Susan Cerny

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in an early photograph showing the arcade and bell tower from Bancroft Way.

14 September 2002

Until the late 1930s the blocks south of the university were a family oriented, residential neighborhood with churches of different denominations. St. Mark’s Church and other churches in the area are survivors of a residential neighborhood that no longer exists. When St. Mark’s was constructed, for example, there was a full residential neighborhood across the street, between Bancroft and Allston, where the sports facilities now stand.

St. Mark’s Church was dedicated in February 1902, and replaced a Victorian styled, wood-frame church constructed on this site in 1877. The church is dedicated to Rev. William I. Kip, California’s first Episcopalian bishop.

St. Mark’s is the most significant example of the Mission Revival style in Berkeley, and one of the Bay Area’s most outstanding examples as well. It is the best surviving work of architect William Curlett (1845–1914), a native of Ireland who arrived in San Francisco in 1871 and established his architectural practice around 1877.

Its square-shaped, four-story bell tower, located at the corner of Bancroft and Ellsworth, is the church’s most prominent feature. The tower consists of two arched entries on the first floor, with an open loggia with two arched openings on all four sides. (These openings were reopened during the church’s recent restoration.) At each of the four corners are turrets with domed tops and on top of the tower is an octagonal lantern with a octagonal domed roof topped by a cross.

On the west side of the church, facing Ellsworth Street, the Mission-styled gable end of the main sanctuary contains a beautiful stained-glass rose window by Tiffany. Another bell tower, on the southwest corner, is only two-stories tall, but it, too, has a domed roof and a simple arched entrance. The cruciform shape of the church is said to be modeled after Mission Don Carlos Borromeo in Carmel. The road screen, pulpit, and lectern were carved in the interior design studios of Vickory, Atkins and Torrey.

Along Bancroft Way (east of the main bell tower) is an open, one-story arcade resting on an arched colonnade that has a slopping shed roof. Rising behind this arcade is the large, three-story sanctuary. A second arcade connects the church to the parish house next door, which was designed by Willis Polk and added in 1912. The arcades are a perfect design element to modify the mass and height of the sanctuary and to provide a pedestrian scale at the sidewalk.

This article was originally published in the Berkeley Daily Planet.

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