First Unitarian Church of Oakland

685 14th St., Oakland, California



Photo taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey


Street View 


The First Unitarian Church of Oakland is an early example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style in California, which is applied to a u-plan complex consisting of an auditorium, a Sunday School, and a Parish House. The interiors of the three wings are linked by sliding doors in a modified version of the wide-spread Akron plan for churches. The structure is a complex hybrid of timber framing, common brick, and stud-framing, clad in a veneer of face brick, sandstone, and stucco. Altogether, the imagery of the building mixes the elite, in its style and materials, with popular culture, in its plan. The church was designed by the Oakland architect, Walter J. Mathews, under the direction of the Rev. Charles W. Wendte. Wendte was a leading Unitarian minister on the Pacific Coast in the 1880s-1890s. The church, with its well-to-do congregation, was a center of intellectual and cultural life in the East Bay, especially in the 1890s. Among many prominent speakers and artists to appear at the church were William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Julia War Howe, Alexander Graham Bell, Jack London, and Isadora Duncan. The building was damaged in the earthquake of 1989, and is presently (1996) undergoing renovation. -- Historic American Buildings Survey

"Designed in 1889 by Walter J. Mathews, this solid masonry Romanesque church departed radically from California's traditional Gothic wood frame construction. Noted for its world famous stained glass windows produced by Goodhue of Boston, and for arching redwood spans, the widest at that time west of the Rockies, the church remains a significant cultural and architectural landmark." - California Historic Landmark No.896

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on June 16, 1977
Reference number
Architectural style
Victorian: Romanesque
Areas of significance
Architecture; Social History
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic functions
Religious structure; Library
Current function
Religious structure
Period of significance
Significant year


19th Century (38,050)
Alameda County, California (207)
Brick (42,466)
Built 1890 (945)
Built during 1890s (7,675)
California (4,457)
Church (5,756)
Have Street View (49,340)
Oakland, California (51)
Peter Ramillard (1)
Place of worship (6,125)
Private owner (54,402)
Romanesque (2,724)
Stone (26,168)
Terra cotta (3,922)
Victorian (19,703)
Walter J. Mathews (2)

Update Log 

  • March 26, 2019: Updated by Richard Doody: Added historical info
  • January 4, 2017: New Street View added by Bill Eichelberger
  • May 11, 2012: Imported photos from HABS/HAER