Two East Bay churches mark
Christmas centennials

Daniella Thompson

Christmas Eve children’s concert at St. Joseph the Worker
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

26 December 2007

In the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, East Bay population ballooned practically overnight, absorbing 200,000 refugees of which three-quarters remained permanently. To accommodate their burgeoning communities, Berkeley and Oakland acquired new housing developments, factories, and transportation routes, as well as a good number of churches.

Three of the earliest churches to be constructed after the earthquake were completed one hundred years ago this month. One of the three—First Presbyterian Church at Dana St. and Channing Way—was demolished in 1973. The other two—St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church at 1640 Addison Street and Shattuck United Methodist Church at 6300 Shattuck Avenue—are still standing.

The current St. Joseph’s (an earlier Gothic Revival church had been used by the parish since 1883) was the brainchild of Father Francis Xavier Morrison, D.D. (1869–1924), who became pastor in September 1905. For the design of the new church, Morrison turned to the San Francisco architectural firm of Frank T. Shea and John O. Lofquist.

St. Joseph the Worker, 1640 Addison Street (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

An alumnus of the �cole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Frank T. Shea (1859–1929) was best known for the Catholic churches he designed throughout California, employing a wide range of styles, from Romanesque and Gothic to Classical and Mediterranean. Shea’s San Francisco churches include St. Brigid at Van Ness Ave. and Broadway (altered); St. Vincent de Paul in Pacific Heights; St. Paul in Noe Valley; St. James and Mission Dolores Basilica (altered) in the Mission district; Nuestra Se�ora de Guadalupe on Russian Hill; St. Anne in the Sunset district; Holy Cross in the Western Addition; and Star of the Sea and St. Monica in the Richmond district. In Oakland, Shea designed St. Augustine Church on the corner of Alcatraz and Colby.

Many of Shea’s churches were constructed under the aegis of Archbishop Patrick Riordan, for whom the architect built a mansard-roofed ch�teau at Alamo Square in San Francisco. The mansion is now a tony hotel. Other prominent Shea buildings include the 8-story Bank of Italy (later Bank of America) building at 552 Montgomery Street, and the Sacramento Hall of Justice. In Berkeley, Shea also designed the Brasfield (now Beau Sky Hotel) on Durant Avenue.

St. Joseph’ north facade

Photos: Daniella Thompson, 2007

Shea’s plans for St. Joseph’s had to be drawn twice, the first set having perished in the 1906 fire. When the second set was ready, shortage of materials and workers delayed the start of construction by several months. The cornerstone was not laid until 16 June 1907, in a ceremony that was attended by a throng of several thousand, yet the contractors, Kidder and McCullough, expedited the work, enabling the church to open for its first service on Christmas Day of that year.

St. Joseph’s architectural style is an amalgam of Neoclassical and Italianate, at the time described by the press as “later Roman style, with concrete foundation and superstructure of wood.” Its most prominent external feature are the soaring twin towers that at one time were the tallest in Berkeley.

Christmas Eve children’s concert at St. Joseph the Worker
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

The large interior seats more than 900 and boasts many fine stained-glass windows. Particularly notable are the 14 windows manufactured in Munich by the firm of Franz Mayer, purveyors of stained glass and artistic mosaic since 1847. Still in operation today, the Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt has installations in over 100 cathedrals—St. Peter’s in Rome being one—as well as in countless public, institutional, and corporate locations around the globe.

The Last Supper, one of 14 windows by Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

The Tenth Station of the Cross, one of 14 sculptural ensembles at St. Joseph the Worker (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

Ten of the Mayer windows—eight in the nave and one at each end of the transept—depict scenes from the life of Christ. Above the two transept windows are large rose windows. A third rose window graces the choir loft on the north side. Below the choir, a transom window displaying a crown and a cross is positioned above the main entrance to the nave.

The Mayer windows were donated by parishioners and installed between June 1911 and December 1912. They retain their brilliant colors to this day. Above the rectangular Mayer windows in the nave is a set of eight arched clerestory windows created in 1965 by Carl Huneke (1898–1972), the German-born founder of Century Stained Glass Studio in San Francisco. Over the 30-year existence of the Century studio, Huneke made about 1,200 windows for 80 churches, at least one of which was designed by Shea and Lofquist—St. Vincent de Paul in San Francisco, which contains more than 40 Huneke windows, most of them installed in the 1940s.

Carl Huneke’s clerestory windows above the Franz Mayer windows in the nave. Alternating with the windows are Stations of the Cross. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

Representing concepts such as Wisdom, Fortitude, and Piety, Huneke’s windows for St. Joseph’s, also donated by parishioners, were part of a major remodel of the church, completed in 1966. Prior to their installation, the clerestory windows had contained plain translucent glass.

Choir loft and confessionals (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Alternating with the windows on the nave and transept walls are 14 beautifully carved and painted sculptural ensembles representing the Stations of the Cross. Four massive oak confessionals, no longer in use, are clustered along the northern side of the nave, under the choir loft. They feature dentiled broken pediments, scrollwork, and arched doors flanked by smooth columns crowned with Ionic capitals.

The church was completed at a cost of $65,000.

Shattuck United Methodist Church, 6300 Shattuck Ave., Oakland (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

Three days after the Christmas opening of St. Joseph’s, local newspapers were announcing the imminent completion of the Shattuck Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, which was to be dedicated on 5 January 1908.

Much was made of the church’s architect, 24-year old Minnie M. Jackson, who at that time was the only woman to have graduated from the Wilmerding School of Industrial Arts in San Francisco. Opened in 1900 as a branch of the University of California, this boys’ school offered training in carpentry; cabinet making; wood carving; forging; clay molding and art; mechanical and architectural drawing; and mathematics and geometry.

Minnie Jackson’s father was a mechanical engineer and her brother was a machinist. Both worked for the Byron Jackson Machine Works in West Berkeley but were unrelated to Byron Jackson. The family lived at 1634 Oregon Street.

San Francisco Call, 28 December 1907

In July 1906, Bishop John W. Hamilton of San Francisco secured $50,000 for the reconstruction of Methodist churches in the area. Rev. Kennedy of the Shattuck Avenue Methodist Church requested $5,000 toward the building of a $11,500 church. A month later, the San Francisco Call reported that the church had “decided to change its name to the Hamilton Church and will build a new church edifice at Sixty-third and Dover streets. The building will be of the Mission style of architecture and will cost $12,000.”

The newly completed Shattuck Methodist Church (San Francisco Call, 13 January 1908)

The name change did not take place, nor the building on Dover Street, the architectural style, or the price tag. After some legal entanglement over two lots (the seller, a Catholic, did not wish to see a Methodist church built near her house), the congregation settled on its current location and turned to Minnie Jackson, a member of the church, to design and supervise construction of the new church. Miss Jackson had never practiced architecture since graduating in 1903, but she accepted the task with equanimity. The result was eclectic, combining Colonial Revival style with Gothic arches and Art Nouveau stained-glass windows. The final cost was $16,000.

Shattuck Methodist sanctuary (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007

Innovative features designed by Miss Jackson included a moving pulpit platform that could be made larger or smaller according to need and a pressed steel ceiling with unusual groin vaults. Of these features, only the charming vaults remain, but now in plaster. Also gone is the steeple over the entrance turret.

Art Nouveau windows with iris motif (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

The stained-glass windows bear floral motifs, with an identical iris in all but the rose window. Windows donated by church members display their names in a red glass panel. The stained glass is not original, since all the windows were reported smashed in June 1910, when a gang of boys aged 8 to 13 broke into the church and vandalized the sanctuary. Nevertheless, one can assume that the original pattern was replicated at that time.

In the spring of 2007, the church completed an interior renovation project, described by David Coolidge, co-chair of the board of trustees:

Water leakage had caused extensive dry rot damage of a roof truss adjacent to the tower, which finally led to the then-bishop instructing our pastor to discontinue meeting in the sanctuary. We shifted worship to the adjacent social hall, jacked up the sanctuary roof with a tower of old railroad ties, and spent several years figuring out how to finance repairs. Recently we completed structural repairs to the roof truss as well as a seismic upgrade of the north wall of the sanctuary.

The seismic work eliminated another of the original features—two large pocket doors which had allowed the social hall to be opened to the sanctuary to provide overflow seating at holidays. That wall has now been re-framed as a shear wall, and is supported on a new foundation Following those two structural repairs, we carried out an extensive cosmetic rework of the interior of the sanctuary, which is how it comes to look so nice inside when it is so shabby outside. Exterior renovation is still in the very early planning stage.�

The retractable speaking platform was in place until we did the remodel, but it had long since been impossible to move because of settling. The tin ceiling was replaced by plaster long before my time—up above there is a platform which I’m told was to allow the hanging lights to be retracted for servicing. There is some evidence in the social hall of an original gaslight installation having been electrified, but I’m not sure if the original lighting in the sanctuary was gas or not—a gas fixture would have required access every time it was lit, obviously, so that may be why the lights were arranged to be raised and lowered.

The open space behind the choir loft formerly housed a pipe organ, which was still in use with many leaks and problems when I joined the church in the 1960s, but wore out for good some time before 1980 and was replaced with a series of electronic organs of various types. It used to be hidden by a red drape behind the cross. Many people when they see this space assume it’s for a baptistry, but those aren’t normally found in Methodist churches, as we don’t baptize by immersion.

First United Methodist Church in Bishop, CA (Inyo Register, 20 August 1908)

Minnie Jackson used a mirror image of her plans for another Methodist church dedicated in Bishop, Inyo County, in August 1908. That church still retains its steeple, pressed steel ceiling, and pocket doors.

At the dedication of the Shattuck Avenue Methodist Church on 12 January 1908, Bishop Hamilton focused his remarks on women’s equality, no doubt as a gesture of respect toward the young woman who had played such a decisive role in the building of the church.

This article was published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on 28 December 2007.


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