A STEEPLE AMONG THE OAKS
A CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF THE
FIRST METHODIST CHURCH
ALBERT E. NORMAN
Rev. White spoke, and the congregation sang a hymn and the "Doxology." Benediction concluded the groundbreaking rites.
"May this be an attractive center for the glory of God and for Christian worship," said the Rev. S. D. Hutsinpiller, district superintendent, in the closing prayer.
When the Dedication Day came on January 18, 1914, it was Bishop Edwin H. Hughes who was the chief speaker. Attendance overflowed into the streets. Most interesting is the observation that $11,000 was collected from the throng to benefit smaller Methodist churches in the Oakland area.
The Rev. White had come to Oakland's First church in 1907. He had watched enthusiasm mount among his parishioners when they talked about the grand temple yet to be dedicated to God. He was a native of Indiana, who had been schooled in Iowa, and before coming to California served as pastor of the Upper Iowa Annual Conference. From 1884 to 1889 he was attached to the Southern California Conference and was pastor at Pomona from 1899 to 1903. Prior to these years, 1895 to 1899, he was president of the University of Southern California.
After leaving Oakland he was superintendent of the San Francisco district from 1916 to 1924. But it must also be noted that he was a member of the University of Southern California Board of Trustees from 1912 to 1920. He was the author of many books, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
The great literary scholar, Rev. John Stephens, followed the Rev. White to First Church in 1916. He was born in Cornwall, England, in 1867, and was brought to Nova Scotia in 1874 as a seven-year-old boy, along with is four brothers and sisters. Later the mother brought the five children to California, where they grew up.
John Stephens joined the Methodist ministry as a young man and was a pastor in Farmington, California, when he married Elizabeth Peters.
From Farmington he went to Livermore. From Livermore he went to Simpson Memorial Church in San Francisco, and was later presiding elder in San Francisco.
Before coming to Oakland in 1916 he was pastor at Stockton. Rev. Stephens' stay here, that Frank N. Kornhaus returned to Oakland and resumed his old post as Sunday School superintendent, which position he had held from 1915 to 1916; replacing Charles H. J. Truman, on October 5, 1919. Kornhaus held the post from 1919 to 1947.
Another of Oakland's fun spots during the years 1878 to 1924 was Shellmound Park in Emeryville.
The dance pavilion with peaked roof stands atop a shell mound that reaches down to the edge of the bay. In background is the California Jockey Club.
World War I had come and gone during the pastorate of Rev. White and the Rev. Stephens here. Oakland by no means was standing still. The very fact that it was extending its city limits hints at why First Church abandoned 14th and Clay for their new church site on Broadway at 24th and Webster Streets.
It was in December of 1909 that Oakland acquired Claremont, Fruitvale, Melrose, Fitchburg and Elmhurst, increasing its area from 22.9 square miles to 60.25 square miles. The Orpheum Theater had opened its doors to eastern vaudeville in 1907, almost at the back door of First Church. A public improvement bond issue for $3,735,000 was passed by the people in November 1909, including $1,160,000 for a new City Hall.
On November 2, 1915, Joseph R. Knowland acquired the control of the Oakland Tribune from William E. Dargie estate, and in 1919 Oakland's outer harbor was dredged to allow larger vessels to dock.
When First Church trustees and pastor decided to surrender their edifice and property to progress in 1912 they again had to seek a temporary home. This time they rented Maple Hall at the northeast corner of 14th and Webster Streets. The two-story building still stands. That's a livery stable across the street from Maple Hall, on the northwest corner. The church with towering steeple is the First Presbyterian that stood at 14th and Franklin Streets.
Rev. Edgar Allan Lowther was pastor at First Church in 1925. It had been 63 years since Methodism had invaded Oakland and the city had grown from 1,550 residents to a population of 300,000. Our story indicates that First Church had kept pace. The church began with 15 members in 1862 and now boasted 1,550 members. Besides it had 1,300 in Sunday School, and property valued at $300,000.
Since the church had been established back in 1862 there had been 12 Methodist churches organized in Oakland from this parent church. The growth was credited to devotion and enterprise, though aid given by the Church Extension Society was extremely helpful.
Rev. Lowther was a native of Knight, Ohio. He was born there on October 25, 1881. University degrees were earned at Syracuse University and at the Union Theological Seminary. He had been pastor of Washington Square Church in New York City during 1906 and 1907, and at St. Stephens Church in New York City from 1907-1913.
First Church, as we know it today, at 24th and Broadway,
had already been dedicated when this 1914 traffic scene at Broadway and 14th Street was recorded for posterity by an alert photographer.
It's no wonder the churches moved farther up town.
The Key Route began transbay train-ferry service October 26, 1903. It ended January 14, 1939, after the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was completed.
Clergy and laity alike were dependent on ferry service to reach San Francisco.
There were other honors and pastorates in Virginia and Kansas before he came to Oakland's First Church on November 1, 1925.
When he left Oakland in 1931 he went to Trinity Church in San Francisco. He died October 10, 1957.
Rev. Walter Jack Sherman, the man who had been a guiding factor in the building of the skyscraper William Taylor Church in San Francisco, came to First Church in 1931 following Rev. Lowther's departure. Rev. Sherman was a native of Wisconsin, born at Wautoma in 1885. He was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin's Engineering School, later graduating from the Boston School of Theology. He first served the Methodist church in Winthrop, Massachusetts, but during World War I he was active in Y. M. C. A. work overseas.
In 1920 the Rev. Sherman was pastor of the First Methodist Church in Lynn, Massachusetts, after which he came to San Francisco as pastor of Central Church. It was in the early 1920s that he turned his attention to the William Taylor structure, an enterprise that eventually combined four San Francisco Methodist churches; Howard Street, Central, Wesley, and California Street.
Wonder how many of these small fry are now mothers, and fathers?
Rev. Sherman was a popular pastor here until 1936. That year he was called to the San Diego Methodist Church. Death claimed him on November 17, 1942.
Oakland was disturbed by hard times in the 1930s along with every other American city, but signs of progress remained. In November of 1930 the Council-Manager form of government was adopted in Oakland, to be effective July 1, 1931. In 1934 the Regional Park District was created by a vote of the people.
Rev. Frank Linder became pastor of First Church in 1936 and was to remain for five years. Here was a man whose ancestors were preachers as well as farmers. He was a native of Missouri, son of a Methodist minister, he being one of a line of four consecutive generations of Methodist ministers.
"I became a minister," Rev. Linder told this writer, "because I was oppressed by the wide difference between life as it so often is, and the splendid thing it could be. I believed them that the redemptive philosophy of the Christian religion was the only effective answer to that condition. I still believe this to be true."
After graduating from high school Rev. Linder attended Kansas City University. Then he turned to the farm.
"To leave the land and become a preacher was no easy decision," he says. "When I did decide, I spent three years in Grinnell College in Iowa and four years in Boston University."
In 1915 he was pastor of Wesley Church in Richmond, California, next door neighbor to Oakland. After that he was minister to Methodist students at the University of California, followed by a happy association with Trinity Church in Berkeley.
At First Church, 14th and Clay Streets, the Maddrill Bible Class honored Mr. Harry Morton's mother on her 100th birthday. Mr. Morton is in the first row right of center.
He had five years at First Church in San Jose and 12 years at First Church in San Diego before arriving in Oakland. Illness interrupted Rev. Linder's pastorate at First Church. Members found themselves honored by having the Rev. George Miller, former Bishop of Latin-America, supplying the pulpit.
When Rev. Linder left Oakland he returned to San Diego to be associated with San Diego's First Church once again, acting "Minister at Large" and growing richer in Christian fellowship as the years went by.
Rev. Frank Toothaker was Rev. Linder's successor in 1941. Rev. Toothaker was born in Tennessee in 1891 of Yankee parents. The Toothakers were deep-dirt farmers like Rev. Linder's ancestors. But they were Iowa farmers and the family wound up in Southern California - in Tulare County. There he graduated from Dinuba Union High School in 1910 and then entered the University of Southern California, where he graduated in 1915 with an A.B. degree.
The choir was ready to sing in jubilation at the Church's 90th anniversary.
There was more schooling in the east, including Columbia University and Teachers' College, New York. In 1918 he was wed to Bess Hanning of Santa Ana, and together they went to Nanking, China, for language school and a turn at evangelistic missionary service.
When the Toothakers returned to the United States, Oakland's First Church was one of Rev. Toothaker's first pastorates. He was here eight years, departing in 1949 to take over the post of Superintendent of the Arizona District of the Methodist Church, a position he held until 1952.
Rev. Toothaker is proud to say that the years have brought him great friendships and he points to Oakland as the scene of many of his fondest memories.
Wednesday, May 10, 1939, was an important day in the annuals of Methodism, for on that day the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church were brought together as one for their consolidated effort on behalf of the Methodist Church in its great effort to extend Christian living throughout the world.
Byron Graber was director of the Chancel Choir at First Church.
As far as records indicate, the Rev. George A. Warmer who held the pulpit at First Church from 1949 to 1957 was the first and only minister here with a football hero background. The Rev. Warmer was an All-State end during his high school days and again in junior college.
"I then started studying," he reports.
He is a native of Frazee, Minnesota, born July 30, 1910. All his early schooling was in California and after attending Santa Ana Junior College and graduating from Pomona College he did graduate work at Boston University, including the School of Theology, where he graduated cum laude. The College of the Pacific gave him an honorary D. D. degree in 1951.
Mr. Charles H. J. Truman, on behalf of the membership, presents Miss Cedora Cheney, Deaconess, with keys to a new car to make calls on the shut-ins.
Rev. Warmer held pastorates in Providence, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Burbank, in addition to Oakland. He is now vice-president for university affairs at Boston University.
Most members of First Church remember the ministers of this era and hold them in high regard. It is our intention to post their accomplishments here solely to help future historians who might delve into California Methodism. We pray we are not too lax.
The Rev. Daniel Walker, who was at First Church from 1957 to 1960, is an Oregonian. He was born at Tenmile, Oregon, in 1915. But his A. B. degree came from Pomona College in 1937 and then he went to the Boston School of Theology.
Returning to California he served as director of Youth Work for the California Conference of the Methodist Church from 1940 to 1942, was pastor of Trinity Church in San Francisco from 1942 to 1948, and instructor at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley from 1945 to 1948.
Rev. Walker next went to Corvallis, Oregon, where he was pastor of the Methodist Church there from 1948 to 1957, also serving more than two years as an instructor at Oregon State College.
For years on Seventh Avenue, the Eighth Avenue Methodist Church finally moved to Eighth Avenue in 1889.
It is located on the southwest corner of East 17th Street and Eighth Avenue.
It is known as Wesley Center of the First Methodist Church. The Education Building is the rear was built in 1939.
On Sunday, September 13, 1959, two Sunday morning services were held, one at Wesley Center at Eighth Avenue and East 17th Street at 9:30 a.m. and one at 11:00 a.m. at First Church at 24th and Broadway.
It was like the return of a prodigal son. First Church was the "mother church" that welcomed back this East Oakland congregation that separated from First Church in 1874. The reason for the original founding of the East Oakland church on Eighth Avenue was the severe rainy seasons. Residents living in Brooklyn (East Oakland) found it irksome to be splattered by mud that splashed between the floorboards of the horse-drawn cars in those early days.
Transportation moguls in those early days strived (sic) to solve the problem by tying hay under the floorboards, but it didn't work.
In 1960 Rev. Walker was called to First Church at Santa Monica, California.
The Rev. O. Magee Wilkes was at First Church, Oakland, for one brief year, 1960-1961, but he admits that he "grew to love the Church."
At the 1914 dedication service the Rev. S. D. Hutsinpiller, then district superintendent, hailed it as an attractive center "for the glory of God and for Christian worship."
He is now vice-president at the School of Theology at Claremont, California. Rev. Wilkes is a graduate of Whittier College and the Boston University, later he did graduate work at the University of Southern California. While pastor of the Methodist Church at Oxnard he developed a $300,000 church and increased the membership from 480 to 1,500 members.
The Claremont school to which the Rev. Wilkes was called to serve while pastor at First Church was one of his earlier Alma Maters.
His record marks him as a man who will succeed in evangelism.
The Oakland Methodist Foundation is a First Church organization operating as a non-profit corporation approved by the Corporation Commissioner of the State of California and the Internal Revenue Bureau of the Federal Government.
The purpose of this organization is to create a non-taxable medium whereby funds entrusted to it through memorials, bequests and wills, solely to aid in the promotion and development of the religious, charitable and educational activities of our church, can be administered legally, effectively and separate from the operation moneys of our church.
The Oakland Methodist Foundation is concerned with the future growth, ministry and service of the First Methodist Church of Oakland. Your gifts, bequests or legacies will be cared for and administered by a Board of Trustees in accordance with the full intent of your wishes. Board members, all members of the First Methodist Church of Oakland, serve without remuneration and are deeply conscious of their sacred responsibilities of the endowment and trust funds given to the Foundation. They are elected according to state laws and their trusteeship is subject to the approval of the Quarterly Conference of the First Methodist Church of Oakland.
The 100 year trail thus brings us to our present pastor, Rev. Charles E. Lord, who came to Oakland's First Church from Modesto in 1961 and is our Centennial Pastor.
Rev. Lord is a native of San Francisco. He grew up in San Francisco and was for years an active member of Grace Church there. After joining the ministry, his first charge was in the Mill Valley-Tamalpais area. He earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1938 at the Garrett Biblical Institute, Evanston, Illinois.
He returned to California from Illinois to serve churches at Arcata, Santa Clara, Alameda and Bakersfield. The University of the Pacific bestowed a D. D. degree on Rev. Lord in 1961.
It is safe to say that there are Oaklanders scattered in the four corners of the world today who are good Christians as a result of their attending some activity of First Church during its 100 years of service to God.
In addition to those who attended the Sunday services, held twice on Sunday in the early days, there were those who faithfully attended Wednesday night prayer meetings - a testimonial service that inspired scores of young people.
Members of First Church look forward to the second century of work for the Lord, and it is their prayer that Rev. Charles Lord's good works will light the way for all who follow.
SUNDAY SCHOOL IS the foundation of the church, and First Church has been no exception.
First Church classes began with Rev. Charles E. Rich serving both as minister and Sunday School superintendent in 1862. When progress was evident, First Church was fortunate in obtaining as Sunday School superintendent James Stratton, a public school teacher trained at Massachusetts' first Normal School. He came around The Horn in 1849 to establish the first private school in Sacramento.
As time moved along Mr. Stratton taught at San Francisco's Washington Grammar School, then at Prescott School in Oakland at Ninth and Campbell Streets. In 1864 he was in the real estate business in San Francisco, later dealing in Oakland real estate. First Church lost a fine builder of young Christian lives when death overtook him on August 5, 1903.
Eli W. Playter followed Mr. Stratton as Sunday School superintendent in 1870. Mr. Playter was a partner in the hardware firm of Dunham, Carrigan & Hayden in San Francisco but resided at 14th and Castro Streets in Oakland. He has left behind the record of a dynamic and generous man; one always ready to assist with labor and money. Twice he was elected to one-year terms as mayor of Oakland (1885-1886). He was a church Lay Leader and member of the Board of Trustees.
In 1892 Mr. Playter was a delegate from California to the General Conference at Omaha, president of the Associated Charities of Oakland, and for five years served as a member of the Board of Public Works. He was also president of the Police and Fire Commission, secretary of the Board of Police pensions, a trustee of the University of the Pacific, and a director of the Oakland Bank of Savings.
While addressing the City Council regarding a boulevard around Lake Merritt on January 3, 1893, he collapsed and died.
Although busy with many public interests Mr. Playter always found time to serve his church, especially as Sunday School superintendent from 1870-1873, again in 1876 and 1877, then again in 1879. It was while he was superintendent that A. A. White, a First Church member, started a branch Sunday School on Sixth Street near Market Street. The tiny hall that the Sixth Street school occupied remained standing until the recent construction of Nimitz Freeway.
It was during Mr. Playter's time that Mrs. J. S. Emery of Emeryville gave a house on Hollis Street north of 34th Street (B Street) to be used by the Extension Society of the church. Here a kindergarten was established by First Church members. Attendance average about 60 each week.
During the time W. H. Rouse was Sunday School superintendent (1874-75) Mrs. Rouse supervised an infant class. This was an innovation continued by Mrs. E. S. Todd, wife of the pastor, who immediately saw the need for more teachers. Miss Grace Blair, her assistant, later took charge of the infants. By this time it was called the Primary Department. Miss Eleanor Johnson was next in charge. Many will remember Miss Johnson as their teacher at Oakland High School when the school was at Jefferson and 12th Streets.
Sunday School superintendent T. O. Crawford (1878) was another educator. He had his own School of Engineering near 10th and Oak Streets. Mr. Crawford was later Superintendent of Alameda County Schools, and in 1882 he was Principal of Lincoln Grammar School at 10th and Alice Streets. In addition to serving as Sunday School superintendent he taught a Sunday School class.
O. J. Backus, one of the founders of the firm of George H. Tay & Company, was Sunday School superintendent in 1880. Mr. Backus was a man who constantly worked to benefit the church and was ever faithful in his attendance at services. He died while seated in his pew during a Sunday morning service, passing away among those who revered him for his stature, integrity and reflection of a pure spiritual life.
A resident of Oakland but a single year (1881) Dr. F. A. Seymour spent that year as Sunday School superintendent at First Church. His dynamic personality was an influence on all who came in contact with him. From Oakland he went to Los Angeles and enjoyed a long and successful medical practice, becoming president of the Los Angeles Medical Society and a frequent contributor to the religious press. Other honors bestowed on him included the presidency of the Southern California Bible Society.
Gilbert S. Keys, Sunday School superintendent in 1882-83 and again in 1885-86 was engaged in the sugar refinery business in San Francisco, making his home in Oakland on 14th Street. Service to First Church was his only hobby.
In 1884 it was George F. Wastell, another San Francisco business man, who gave of his time and efforts in serving as Sunday School superintendent. He made his home in the Centennial Hotel directly across the street from First Church when it stood at 14th and Clay Streets.
While Sunday School superintendent Mr. Wastell met and married Miss Emma Allen, the church organist. They made their home on the south side of 14th Street just west of Clay Street, only a few doors from the church. Two of their children are still residents of the East Bay.
J. E. Wager came to First Church about 1885 and, because of his religious background, took his place in the work of the Lord by becoming Sunday School superintendent. Despite Mr. Wager's tremendous church work there are probably more today who remember his daughter, Luella Wager Coplin, vocalist and singing teacher.
During 1888-1889 while John Clayton Hill was Sunday School superintendent the Sunday School was graded into three departments: Primary, Intermediate, and Senior. Mr. Hill joined First Church in 1881 and soon found himself secretary, chorister, teacher and Sunday School superintendent. He was a devout servant of the Lord. In addition to being a member of the Official Board he was chairman of the Music Committee, a love that had him organizing and directing the very popular "Olde Folkes' Concertos."
Proceeds from one of the Hill concerts totaled $1,500, a sum that was given toward the purchase of our present church organ. Mr. Hill married the daughter of George Miller. Mr. Miller was a member of the first Board of Trustees of First Church.
In 1890 when Dr. Walter F. Lewis was Sunday School superintendent, classes were held from 12:45 to 2 p.m. It was also during his administration that the two-story annex on Clay Street was dedicated, April 13, 1890. Dr. Lewis started a Sunday School orchestra that included his son, John Wharry Lewis, violinist. This Sunday School musician was the same John Wharry Lewis who later became orchestra leader at the American Theater in Oakland.
Another Sunday School musician at First Church to become renowned was Anson B. Weeks. He was of a later period than Lewis. Then, in 1920, Harold Rader managed the Epworth League orchestra that included such names as Elbert McKim and Joan and Bess London.
Before coming to Oakland in 1889 Dr. Lewis had been Sunday School superintendent in Milwaukee, Delphi, Indiana, and at Winona, Minn. He was doing the Lord's work at Santa Cruz Methodist Church in 1888.
Myron T. Holcomb was named superintendent of the Temescal Branch Sunday School in 1880, and in 1888 he assisted in organizing the 34th Street church. In the intervening years he was organist at First Church.
From 1894 to 1896 Mr. Holcomb was Sunday School superintendent at First Church. Also 1901 and 1902. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it," was his motto. From 1880 to 1905 he was in the real estate business in Oakland, then he moved to Los Angeles. He returned north in 1923 and resided with a daughter in San Francisco.
On first coming to Oakland George J. W. Stark was Sunday School superintendent at the Chester Street church. Then in 1895 he was choir director and Sunday School superintendent at Folsom Street Methodist Church in San Francisco. Along with his religious work and business activities he served as a member of the Oakland Board of Education. He was chairman of the committee responsible for the inaugural of manual training in Oakland's Commercial High School at 12th and Market Street.
Next Sunday School superintendent at First Church was Dr. Robert T. S. Stratton, world renowned brain surgeon and author. In 1888 he married Miss Gertrude A. Walker of Calistoga. They were the parents of four children. Mrs. Stratton and the four children are still living.
In 1903 Dr. Stratton became superintendent at First Church. He served on all the church committees and was a trustee of the University of the Pacific. Dr. Stratton's dignity was an inspiration to all who approached his presence.
Only salaried superintendent of the Sunday School at First Church was the Reverend I. N. Holliday. After two years at Oakland's First Congregational Church he took over the superintendency at First Church for two years. From this post he went East to do church and Sunday School work as well as edit a newspaper left him by his father.
The years 1905 to 1913 were a great era in the history of Sunday School at First Church. Those were the years of Harry Morton served as Sunday School superintendent of five different church schools. He was a jeweler. In the sight of the Lord he was a jewel.
For six years Mr. Morton was president of the California State Sunday School Association, under whom this author served as Alameda County secretary from 1914 to 1917. For eight years Mr. Morton was a member of the Executive Committee of the International Sunday School Association, and in 1913 served as an official member of the Heinz Sunday School Tour of the World.
During Mr. Morton's superintendency First Church boasted of 68 teachers. There were 710 registered in all grades, 125 in the cradle room, and 90 in the Home Department.
It must also be noted that Mr. Morton was chairman of the committee that supervised the erection of our present church. His service to church and Sunday School will remain outstanding as long as we can measure time.
Following Mr. Morton came W. C. Weld, a life insurance man of the Million Dollar Club and life-long Sunday School worker. He had been Sunday School superintendent in Alhambra, Los Angeles, Riverside, Pasadena and Spokane before coming to Oakland. Here he created a teaching course to develop Sunday School teachers among the young people - a great need in every Sunday School.
Franklin N. Kornhaus, Sunday School superintendent at First Church from 1915 to 1947 (with a two-year recess from 1917 to 1918) was beloved by everybody, both as a banker and church leader. Before coming to Oakland he helped to build four Y. M. C. A. buildings in Illinois, all the while being active in Sunday School work there.
This author was Sunday School secretary during the Kornhaus administration here and proudly reports that Frank's counsel was invaluable. His way of presenting a matter led to perfect cooperation from all his aides.
It was only 25 years ago (1937) when these Sunday School members at First Church gathered on the church steps to "watch the birdie."
Maybe you are one who remembers those Sunday morning assemblies when Superintendent Kornhaus would invariably ask, "Is everybody happy?" If you do remember, then you might also recall the answer.
"A-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y," everyone would chorus. The smiles that followed were a stimulant to all.
A man among men, and a friend to thousands of young people was Charles H. J. Truman, superintendent in 1917 and 1918. He served the Methodist church in San Francisco before coming to Oakland. From the time he arrived here we know he devoted his time, talent and purse to the growth of First Church. He was a modest man, and would be the last to want a eulogy here. His death was mourned by all who knew him. His wife remains active in church work, while his three children: Lloyd and Stanley Truman and Mrs. Edna Eiselin, are also counted among the faithful.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Norman, Albert E., “A Steeple Among The Oaks, A Centennial History of the First Methodist Church, Oakland, CA, 1862-1962. Oakland, California. 1962.
© 2010 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.