History & Interior
In 1870, Brooklyn was the name given to a township that extended from Lake Merritt to San Leandro, from the channel off Alameda to the Contra Costa county line. It had an area of over 24,000 acres and a population of about 1,600. Two years later it had doubled in population and was incorporated into the city of Oakland. By comparison, Oakland's population was a grand 10,500. The fine harbor facilities of Brooklyn basin, combined with the newly extended railroad lines, led to such a large-scale industrial expansion and residential development.
Brooklyn Presbyterian Church holds a culturally significant place in the history of Oakland architecture as well as Bay Area religion. Pastor George Pierson, whose dedication inscription can be found in the south window of the Sanctuary, originally organized the church on February 17, 1861. In doing so he "found much uphill work, as there were so many saloons... Bull fighting, gambling, and drinking were the principal entertainments of a majority." In fact, the location where the first church was built on donated land at E. 14th St. and 15th Ave. was not far from a bull pen where bulls and grizzly bears were pitted against one another on Sunday mornings. Nonetheless, the first church was built and dedicated the first week in May 1861. In time the congregation prospered, and under the ministry of Dr. Pierson's successors, the congregation grew further in numbers.
In 1885 Dr. E.S. Chapman became pastor, and to address the membership's growth from 150 to 250, he spearheaded the project to build a bigger church at its present site at E. 15th St. and 12th Ave. The cornerstone was laid on June 16, 1887, and the dedication ceremony was held on Christmas Day of that year. The Oakland Enquirer referred to the multi-purpose nature of George Bordwell's Gothic-Revival building, describing it as a "thoroughly modern church", which departed "as far as could be possible to go from the old idea in church architecture." The building included a Sunday school room with gallery, a library, a main room, and kitchen, and a ladies' parlor, with less than half of the overall space being devoted to the main auditorium. Electricity and central heating were luxurious modern innovations incorporated in the church's architecture. The church was fully finished and the new stained glass windows were inserted by Spring 1888. The congregation remained in the building until 1972, whereupon the church became home to the Grace Temple Missionary Baptist congregation until 2016. Although the Baptist congregation sought for several years to raise funds for the restoration of the building, deferred maintenance and vandalism over the years took their toll on the integrity of the building. The church is now under the stewardship of Brooklyn Preserve, which is breathing new life into the building through ongoing restoration efforts and community engagement.
-excerpt taken from Greer Ashman's Condition Survey
The craftsmanship of the woodwork throughout the building, and especially in the Sanctuary, is to this day breathtaking. Brass pillars, humble in stature but impressive in quality, support the upper gallery in its horseshoe outline. The pews, seating around 500, have high backs of redwood and black walnut ends. The strong trusses supporting the roof are impressively large and made of varnished redwood, drawing the eye upwards to a cupola of wood and stained glass. The pulpit is made of black mahogany and quite compact: Dr. Chapman wanted a smaller choir to encourage congregational singing.
The Gallery and the Sunday school located beneath it are quite different from its original build. In its original construction, there was no floor as you see here, but through the use of sliding doors and slat partitions, the space was transformed from an open, two-level gallery into 14 smaller classrooms. Keeping with the octagonal theme and latticed structure of square panels, the domed ceiling of the Gallery mimics that of the Sanctuary, drawing the eye upwards to a cupola. This space is open for public use and is most commonly used as a theater venue.
This airy space was originally the infant room. Now it is primarily used as a place to warm up and cool down for actors and musicians. Its located adjacent to the Gallery.
Brooklyn Presbyterian was considered modern in 1887 for its focus on function outside of worship: a large kitchen with a full china pantry and appliances were installed even before the pews were put in!
Our kitchen is unsuitable for catering.
The Sunday school is currently occupied by a wonderful ABA therapy group, Positive Pathways. They provide affordable therapy and care to neighboring residents. This picture was taken when the Grace Temple Baptist congregation was still holding service. The pillars give some indication of how the Sunday school was formerly sectioned into smaller rooms.
These fashionistas once graced the ladies' parlor. Keeping with tradition, the parlor was last painted by the women of Grace Temple Baptist Church. We hope to hold women-embracing gatherings here in the future. If you have any ideas, drop us a line!