The First Universalist Church of Oakland (aka Oakland Universalist Church) was started in 1883 by Rev. Simon Goodenough of Santa Clara. After failing to revive the Universalist church in San Francisco, Goodenough rented a building at 13th Street and Jefferson in Oakland known as Hamilton Hall.


In 1886 the church purchased a vacant lot on the west side of West Street, between 11th and 12th Streets. The building was constructed for $2,000, and the architect listed was J.C. Mathews & Sons. It was likely Walter J. Mathews' first church design. 1

In the early 1890s the church borrowed money to install a pipe organ and hire a music director; in 1894 the pastor resigned with the church $1,200 in debt.

Rev. Lizzie N. Shaw was pastor until 1896, when her health deteriorated. Rev. E.E. Hammond became pastor in September, 1896. He identified as a spiritualist, that is, he believed in ghosts. This was a bigger part of the early Universalist church, but he was petitioned by the congregation to not preach on the subject. Despite the restriction, the congregation dwindled. Shaw returned to try to revive the church, without success. She died in 1901.

The church officially died for the first time in 1905, when the property was sold by the Universalist General Convention for $4,050.


The church was started again in January, 1916, with the same name. Rev. Bernard C. Ruggles was the pastor from 1924-1936. Rev. Horton Colbert was the pastor from 1936-1940. At the "earnest request" of Dr. Robert Cummins, one of the trustees, Ruggles returned at the end of 1940. He painted a grim picture of the church and its finances in a 1941 letter to the General Convention. The church managed to hang on long enough to merge with the First Unitarian Church in 1961. The property was sold in the late 1960s.


Simon Goodenough lived at 1060 Harrison Street.

Links and References

  1. Historic American Buildings Survey - First Unitarian Church of Oakland (PDF)