History of Northbrae
On Sunday, February 8, 1914, Presbyterian authorities held a meeting in the then rapidly growing Northbrae/Thousand Oaks district of Berkeley. Dr. Frank S. Brush was chosen to lead the new church. He served for ten years until October 1, 1924, when Rev. Laurance L. Cross became minister of the church. Rev. Cross served until his death in 1966 – nearly forty-two years. He was a moving force in both the community and the church.
Since Northbrae was the only church in the area at that time, and since there were many denominations represented in the membership, the feeling gradually developed that the church should not be denominationally aligned. In 1943, the members voted overwhelmingly to become a true community church, multi-religious in nature and governed only by its own members through a representative Church Council. In order to accomplish its independence, the congregation reimbursed the Presbyterians $18,000 which had been invested in the founding of Northbrae.
In May, 1967, Rev. Craig Jessup was called to become minister. He was joined in March, 1971, by Rev. David Sugarbaker. After eight years of co-ministry, Rev. Jessup retired in the spring of 1979 and Rev. Sugarbaker continued his responsibilities for the programming and ministry of the church, retiring in September of 1997, after 27 years of ministry with Northbrae. Rev. Don Felt served as interim minister until September of 2000, when the church called Dr. Ron Sebring to be our minister.
Frank S. Brush, Established Church - served 10 years
Laurance L. Cross, Conceptual Founder - served 47 years
Craig Jessup - served 11 years
David Sugarbaker - served 27 years
Don Felt, Interim Minister - served 2 years
Ron Sebring - served 10 years
Christy Newton, Interim Minister - July 2011 - June 2013
Frances Conley, Northbrae's church historian, wrote the following history of Northbrae covering 1905 to 1920.
by Francis Conley
"In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the first service in their original sanctuary, the people of Northbrae Community Church reflect upon the story of the church's beginning."
WE ALL ARE PART OF THE HISTORY
The time has not yet arrived for the writing of a definitive history of Northbrae Community Church. But as we remember the first service in the sanctuary of the original building, it seems appropriate to look back on the early years and remember our beginnings.
There are still a few in our congregation who were present, as children, in the very first days of the life of the church. And many more have memories of later days which are still unknown to the rest of us. We hope that any who are willing to share memories, or pictures, or records from the past will let us know, so that when the time comes to write a more complete history, we will be able to benefit from their experiences.
BEFORE THERE WAS A CHURCH - 1905-1913
Berkeley was an exciting place to live at the start of the year 1914, when a handful of people in the Northbrae tract met to create a church for their neighborhood.
The great earthquake of 1906 was now eight years in the past, but there still were people leaving fire-scarred San Francisco to build homes in Berkeley. In San Francisco, between the old Presidio and North Beach, buildings for the Panama Pacific Exposition were taking shape. All the world would be coming to the Bay Area to celebrate a great world fair; and in Berkeley the newly-built Claremont Hotel was ready to open its doors to them.
No matter that the nations of Europe were poised on the verge of conflict, with a World War only six months distant. Europe was far away, and in California the future was golden. Berkeley was growing out of its first neighborhoods, which surrounded the campus, and edging into the cow pastures north of the city. In 1905, even before the great earthquake, the Mason-McDuffie Company had started to lay out a tract in Northbrae.
Two years later, just as the tract was ready to open, a serious proposal was put forth to move the capitol of California from Sacramento to Berkeley. It was to occupy forty acres bounded by Los Angeles Ave., The Alameda, and Arlington Ave.--- an area exactly adjoining the new tract. Berkeley interests worked hard to secure the capitol, even giving to the streets surrounding the site such names as Los Angeles, Monterey, Fresno, Marin, in the hope that this would influence the voters of other cities, But when the people of the entire state voted, the proposal was defeated. Located, as it is, north of Los Angeles Ave., the site of our present church would have been included in the capitol grounds.
As the new tract was opened, Mason-McDuffie Company built their sales office, featuring a pergola and palm trees, on the triangle of land at Marin and The Alameda, where a tiny park and fire station now stand. There was no question that the new neighborhood was intended for successful and prosperous families. The streets were paved, and eventually there would be pink concrete sidewalks---this at a time when most of the city was making do with boardwalks.
A MISSION CHURCH - 1913-1914
In the fall of 1913, the Home Missionary Committee of the Oakland Presbytery, in conjunction with the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church, decided to open a new church in Northbrae, and Frank S. Brush D.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Alameda, was appointed missionary in charge.
There would seem to have been no shortage of churches in Berkeley at the time. The church page of the Berkeley Daily Gazette lists four Catholic churches and forty churches of major Protestant denominations, of which seven are Presbyterian. In addition, there is a list of twelve churches called "miscellaneous," including a Theosophical Society, Christian Yoga, Spiritualist, New Thought, and Berkeley Home of Truth. However, most of the existing churches were clustered in the area south of the campus, and there was none as far north as the new Northbrae tract. The nearest churches seem to have been Calvary Presbyterian, then meeting at Cedar and Bonita, and Marin Avenue Methodist at the corner of Stannage, where it still stands.
On February 8, 1914, Dr. Brush held his first service in the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Pressley, at Los Angeles and Mariposa, preaching on the text Matt. 1:23, "And they shall call His name Emanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." For several months services were held in the homes of various friends, but only every two weeks, because Dr. Brush could not immediately leave his church in Alameda.
On the first of May, Dr. Brush was able to give all his time to the new church, and in July he and his wife and at least one child moved into their new home at 1929 El Dorado. Now services were held every week, with Sunday School at 9:45 and preaching at 11:00. Prayer meeting on Wednesday evening continued to be held in the home of various parishioners.
After only three months the people of Northbrae built a small chapel in back of the home of Dr. and Mrs. Brush. They purchased an organ; and chairs were donated by a Mr. H. K. Jackson, whose name does not appear on the membership list. Primary class chairs were donated by St. John's Presbyterian Church, children's song books by First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, and adult song books by the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland.
A photo of the congregation gathered around the little chapel appears to show them meeting in a garage, but the structure clearly was built as a chapel. One can speculate that it seemed practical to build a potential garage, which would be an asset to the property in the future. In 1914, almost no one in Berkeley owned a garage.
NORTHBRAE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH - 1915
At the end of March, the new little church submitted its annual report to the denomination. They reported eight teachers in the Sabbath School, fifty-five pupils, and an average attendance of thirty-six. This after only one year. The Board of Home Missions had been right. There was room for another church in Berkeley.
They listed their financial support of the denomination:
Home missions $ 15
Relief & sustentation $ 2
Foreign missions $ 16
Freedmen $ 2
Education $ 2
Colleges $ 2
Sunday School work $ 2
Temperance $ 2
Church erection $ 2
Congregational support $ 445
In December of 1915, Miss. Elinore Wiley joined the church along with her sister, Elizabeth Wiley, and her parents, Mr. and Mrs.. S.P. Wiley. Elinore Wiley, now Elinore Dobbins is still a member of our church.
At the end of December 1915, the session amended the articles of incorporation to change the name of the church to Northbrae Community Church. This is the first hint of any move away from the denomination.
THE DREAM OF A NEW BUILDING - 1916 - 1917 - 1918
In January of 1916, there was discussion of the possibility of building a church. In March, the session (the governing body of a Presbyterian church) voted to take a three-month option on two lots at the corner of The Alameda and Los Angeles, where they planned to erect a tent! Eventually the lots were bought, but we hear no more about the tent idea. The annual report in March shows support of the denomination at about three times the amount of the previous year. Membership has doubled to sixty-five. The Sabbath School too has doubled to one hundred and fifteen, with average attendance of sixty-eight children.
We have no account of exactly how they taught sixty-five children in the little chapel the size of a garage. However, it is no surprise that by Easter Sunday they have found a new meeting place, which was in a building they called the Mason McDuffie clubhouse. Probably Mason McDuffie has closed the sales office by this date, and has left the building as a clubhouse for the neighborhood.
There were one hundred and forty worshipers at the Easter service, and one hundred and sixteen in the Sunday School. The minutes of the session report that 'The building was found to be much more commodious and comfortable than the chapel formerly used." An evening service was held for the first time.
January 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I, but there is never any suggestion that this had any impact on the church at all.
On January 7 we are told that the communion service was postponed "on account of the unsettled state of affairs regarding the zone ordinance and the church lot." This probably refers to gaining permission to build a church on land zoned as residential. But what this has to do with the postponement of a communion service remains a mystery.
In November there is the only reference to the war. One hundred special war emergency envelopes were ordered.
On Easter Sunday in 1918, at the suggestion of Dr. Brush, "a union sunrise prayer meeting" was held for the first time at Cragmont Rock.
At the end of July reference is made to a Daily Vacation Bible School already held.
We learn that in October "The completion of the addition to the present building has greatly facilitated the work of the Sunday school, especially by providing three separate classrooms." More research will be necessary to interpret this information. It may indicate that the church has bought the Mason-McDuffie building, and has added three rooms to it.
November 11. There is no mention of the end of World War I.
December 4. At last there is an event in the outside world which cannot be ignored by the session. Sunday evening services will not be resumed because of the influenza epidemic. Sunday School was closed January 12. Dr. Brush secured a permit for worship service on January 23, and a short service was held, but communion was postponed. Study classes are postponed until February.
GROUND BREAKING - 1919
In March of 1919, there are plans for another sunrise service at Cragmont Rock.
In April a need is expressed for three ushers, one at each door. (This must be a clue as to the nature of the building being used.)
Plans are made for a Daily Vacation Bible School to last for four weeks. The annual report shows a gift to foreign missions of $104.20, with $264 to home missions - six times as much as had been given just three years earlier.
At Easter there were two hundred twenty-eight in the congregation, and some were turned away.
In April plans were progressing for the badly needed new church. An agreement has been reached with the Church Extension Board of the Presbytery in which they will pay the interest on a $10,000 loan from the time of ground breaking for the new church to the time that $10,000 is received from the Board of Church Erection, but not for more than one year.
Obviously the new church is being built during the rest of the year, but there is no mention of it in the minutes of the session.
THE NEW CHURCH IS COMPLETED - 1920
In January of 1920, with the new building almost finished, new hymnals are ordered, and the Pilgrim Hymnal is chosen. This is a Congregational hymnal, and may be a small hint that there is some movement away from Presbyterian ties.
On Saturday, April 3, the following paragraph appeared in the news article reporting Easter observances on the first page of the Berkeley Daily Gazette: "The Northbrae Presbyterian Church will observe Easter by holding their first church service in the new building at The Alameda and Los Angeles Street. Holy communion will be held at 6 and 8 o'clock in the morning, with morning prayer and communion at 11 o'clock. The church school festival will be held at 7 o'clock in the evening."
On the church page we read: "The congregation of the Northbrae Presbyterian Church will meet tomorrow morning for the first time in the new building, corner of The Alameda and Los Angeles Avenue. Dr. R.S. Donaldson and Dr. Weston Johnson will assist in the morning services. The music will be in charge of Mr. Alexander Perie, organist and musical director. The evening service will consist of special Easter music and a Resurrection Tableau. Hours: 9:45 a.m; 11 a.m.; 7:30 p.m."
There were six hundred in attendance at this first service in the new church, an sixty-six new members were received. With almost four hundred in Sunday School that day, even the brand-new church must have seemed scarcely large enough.
The annual report for this last year before moving into the new church is significant primarily because it reveals a good deal of selectivity as compared with the first years, when a standard amount seems to have been given to all causes. Most of the amounts have been increased---not much considering the seven-fold increase in membership, but now there is a big building fund to support. There must not have been much enthusiasm for the cause of temperance, which has increased from $2.00 in the first year to $2.63 in 1919.
THE PRESENT AND THE PAST
Our brief preliminary history ends with the move into the new church building, but we may take a small peek ahead into the years to come.
At the end of 1915, the articles of incorporation were amended to change the name of the church from Northbrae Presbyterian Church to Northbrae Community Church, though either name may appear in newspaper announcements in the years to follow.
Twelve years later, in October of 1927, the trustees again "resolved" to change the name--this time legally, and on Dec. 7, 1927, the Superior Court of California allowed the name change.
An agreement reached with the Presbyterian Church at this time called for continued affiliation with the Presbytery for not less than fifteen years, and with the affiliation to be ended even then only by a three-quarters vote of the church membership. This meant, of course, that the last ties with the Presbyterian Church ended in 1942, twenty-eight years after the church was founded.
The nature of our church has changed greatly in the intervening years. The tenure of Rev. Cross, from 1924 to his death in 1966, saw the evolution of a church vastly different from the one which served the first people of the Northbrae tract. The church has continued to change in the last quarter century under the leadership of Rev. Jessup and Rev. Sugarbaker. The neighborhoods which form our "community" now extend many miles beyond North Berkeley, and there is an ever-increasing emphasis on the church's non-creedal statement of purpose, along with the increased willingness of members to assume responsibility each for his own belief.