First Church of Christ, Scientist, San Francisco, a branch of The Mother Church in Boston, Massachusetts, was officially formed in 1895. Sue Ella Bradshaw, a Christian Science teacher and healer, was the initiator of the establishment of the Christian Science church in California. The first public service was held in 1891 in Beethoven Hall at 336 Post Street in San Francisco.
A permanent church building was many years in the planning for the young Christian Science movement in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. After several temporary homes, and a major earthquake in 1906, the membership of First Church of Christ, Scientist, San Francisco, hired noted Bay Area architect Edgar A. Mathews to design the present church at the corner of Franklin and California Streets.
The cornerstone was laid in 1911 and the church formally dedicated in 1913. Its architectural style is characterized as Romanesque-Byzantine by the architect. A tapestry of warm polychrome brick provides a warm glow in any kind of light. In the September 1913 issue of The Pacific Coast Architect it is written, “The delicate terra cotta ornament is concentrated where it blends most harmoniously on the main facades, while the graceful lines and proportions of the building as a whole are a perpetual delight to the eye.”
The exterior is punctuated with a medium height, squared belfry or tower, and has a heavy roof overhang in the style of northern Italian country churches. In Sacred Places of San Francisco Ruth H. Willard summarizes, “with its simple silhouette and thick walls, the church gives a feeling of substantiality.” The auditorium plans are similar to those of a Christian Science church in Concord, New Hampshire. First Church exudes a quiet, peaceful atmosphere yet is quite large. The nature motif carried throughout the church—the main entrance doors, the bronze gates, the readers’ desk, around the two largest stained glass windows—symbolizes the vine from John 15: “I am the vine, ye are the branches…”
The pews are quarter-sawn grayed oak and the windows a rippled glass that softens the glare of bright days diffusing an excellent, even light. Mr. Mathews served as a consultant during the installation of the new Kimball organ in 1923, which to this day is recognized as one of the finest instruments in the country.
There have been design modifications throughout the church’s history. Most recently a major seismic retrofit and restoration was undertaken. In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the building sustained only minor damage. However, the City required all unreinforced masonry public buildings to be brought up to code. The church building has been seismically strengthened as well as restored to a level of perfection that provides a sense of serenity. The warm, glowing colors of the interior blend harmoniously with the earth-toned brick exterior, inviting one and all into a peaceful atmosphere conducive to meditation and prayer.