Local Lutheran Church Celebrating 125 Years
On Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, Immanuel Lutheran Church on Lafayette Street will celebrate the 125th anniversary of the dedication of its church, the oldest sanctuary in Alameda. (Alameda has older congregations, but they worship in newer sanctuaries). Immanuel’s sanctuary on Lafayette Street is also the oldest Lutheran sanctuary on the West Coast.
Immanuel began life as a mission of St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Members of the congregation began meeting for worship in 1883. At first they gathered in homes around town. By 1886, they were holding services at the Congregational Church on the corner of Central Avenue and Chestnut Street. They worshipped in a building that predates today’s Congregational Church.
On Oct. 14, 1888 the congregation organized as the Deutschen Lutherischen Immanuels Gemeinde zu Alameda (German Lutheran Immanuel Congregation of Alameda). Members of the congregation expressed a goal of building their own church within four years. Immanuel’s Frauenverein, or Ladies’ Aid Society, stepped in. Society members had been raising funds through coffee socials and sauerkraut dinners since 1884. The ladies offered the board of trustees the entire contents of its treasury — $1,288 ($34,400 in 2016) to purchase land for a church site. The trustees purchased property at 1420 Lafayette St. for $1,425 ($35,500 in 2016).
The congregation turned to San Francisco architect Julius Krafft to design their church. Krafft was born in Stuttgart, Germany. He came to the United States in 1872. He lived in Chicago for two years before moving to California and settling in Oakland. He moved to San Francisco in 1881, where he worked as a draftsman for architects John P. Gaynor and Thomas J. Welsh. In 1888, three years before he designed Immanuel Lutheran, Krafft opened his own practice. (Krafft’s only other Alameda design stands in a sorry state of disrepair at 1617 Central Ave.)
Two years after he designed Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alameda, Krafft designed a much larger church for Immanuel’s parent church, St. Paulus Lutheran, at Eddy and Gough streets in San Francisco. Krafft modeled this more ambitious church after the Gothic-style Chartres Cathedral in France. Fire destroyed Krafft’s creation in 1995.
The trustees chose the Gothic Revival style for their place of worship. This style arrived in the United States with the 1814 Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven, Conn. The style raised eyebrows. Even today the contrast between Trinity Church and the nearby Center Church in the Federalist style remains stark. Both churches were built at the same time and stand today on New Haven’s Green. By 1890 Gothic Revival had become the style of choice for church buildings.
In early 1890, the trustees had selected a Baukommittee, or building committee.
By early June, the committee had met with “Herr Krafft.” They quickly approved Krafft’s plans. By August they were reviewing bids from contractors. The committee awarded “Baumeister Herbst” the construction contract for $5,199 ($140,000 In 2016). August Herbst and Daniel McLeod’s work included a Lutheran Church at Seventh and Filbert streets in Oakland built in 1892. Charles Mau, who designed the brick Masonic Hall on Park Street, worked closely with Herbst and McLeod.
The congregation agreed on a plan to borrow $2,000 for construction. Three building committee members personally guaranteed the loan. To raise more capital, the committee sold a parcel of land previously considered for a church location. The construction contract did not include the stained-glass windows. The Ladies Aid Society commissioned these from John Mallon’s Pacific Glass Staining & Embossing Works on Howard Street in San Francisco. Mallon had attracted favorable attention to his company at the 1889 Sacramento State Fair earlier with the stained-glass designs of the seals of all 42 (at the time) states of the Union.
Herbst and McLeod had nearly completed construction by early November 1890. The congregation hoped to hold the church’s consecration service on the last Sunday in Advent, but Mallon’s craftsmen needed more time to install the church’s stained-glass windows. This delayed the service until the New Year.
It was raining on Jan. 4, 1891, as church members gathered at the Congregational Church on Central Avenue. At 2:30 p.m. they processed to their new church. The Reverends Thiess, Schroeder and Bode led the way. The contractors Herbst and McLeod followed with the board of trustees and the members of the congregation right behind.
When they arrived at the new church, the contractors handed the keys to C. Kohlmoos, the president of the board of trustees. Kohlmoos turned and gave the keys to the pastor, the Rev. Thiess. Everyone filed into the church for services held in German. The Ladies Aid Society capped the afternoon with a lunch at the home of Mrs. Louis Meyers.
Celebrate Immanuel Lutheran’s 125th anniversary this Saturday, Oct. 1, at the congregation’s 26th annual Oktoberfest. Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for children and include traditional German food, dancing and lots more fun. See brownpapertickets.com or call 523-0659 for more information.