First Church of Christ, Scientist

2619 Dwight Way, Berkeley, CA

Susan Cerny


West fašade, Bowditch Street (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

24 August 2002

The First Church of Christ, Scientist is the only building in Berkeley that has been designated a National Landmark. It is the highest honor that can be given a structure or site in the United States. The church, located on the northeast corner of Dwight Way and Bowditch Street, was designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1910.

The Church is considered Bernard Maybeck’s masterpiece. In the words of Kenneth Cardwell, Maybeck’s biographer, “no other building demonstrates so completely Maybeck’s imaginative architectural genius [...] with its masterly handling of space, structure, color, and light.” Others have remarked that it is one of the Bay Area’s greatest architectural monuments, a monument of inner beauty and strength, an inspiration for unique formulations of space, light, and texture and perhaps simply one of the great buildings of the world. Indeed, most anthologies on American architecture include this church.  
The sanctuary’s east window (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)


Dwight Way fašade (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
 
Board Room exterior, Dwight Way (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

The building is a fusion of ordinary materials such as reinforced concrete, industrial sash windows glazed with translucent glass, panels of asbestos siding called Transite, and redwood trellises and roof framing. The building is a highly creative combination of historic references from Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic to Japanese.



Main entrance, Dwight Way (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
 
Chimney Room fašade, Dwight Way (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Structure and decoration merge on the interior of the church, where the color scheme has been well preserved. The natural brown of the roof trusses and the gray of the concrete pillars contrast with the gold gilt in the tracery enhanced by blue, red, black, and green in the depths of modeled ornament and flat stencil work. Natural and artificial light is used to enhance the structure, and different shades of translucent glazing create the desired effect.



The sanctuary (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)


Photos: Daniella Thompson, 2007

The Christian Science Church was founded in Boston in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), who claimed to have discovered the principles by which Jesus had healed the sick, suggesting that by bringing the material body into harmony with the spiritual, Man can achieve perfection and be healed. Most Christian Science churches are plain, often Classically inspired structures, reflecting the rational principles of the religion. Maybeck created a church for the Berkeley congregation which is non-traditional, yet immensely spiritual.


The sanctuary’s west window (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
 
Trellis detail, Dwight Way (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)


Portal to Sunday school wing (1927), Dwight Way (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004).


Sunday School, facing north (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

Sunday School, facing south (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

When the university began acquiring properties south of the campus for redevelopment during the 1950s, members and friends of the church obtained National Landmark status for the building to discourage its destruction. The church was built in the heart of an established residential neighborhood that is now mostly gone.

This article was originally published in the Berkeley Daily Planet.


Organ loft, Bowditch St. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
 
Courtyard roofs (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

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The First Church of Christ, Scientist was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 15 December 1975—the first building to be designated under Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. It is National Historic Landmark #77000283 (22 December 1977).


Southwest corner, 1912 (photo: BAHA archives)

See also:
Roy Flamm’s classic 1950s photos of the church at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Contemporary photographs of the church on the website of Friends of First Church.

Additional reading

First Church of Christ, Scientist at Great Buildings Online

Scholars’ essays on the Maybeck Foundation website

 

  

Copyright © 2003–2011 Daniella Thompson. Text © 2002–2011 Susan Cerny.
All rights reserved.