St. John's Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, California)

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Former St. John's Presbyterian Church, Current Berkeley Playhouse
St. John's Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, CA).JPG
St. John's Presbyterian Church building in 2009
St. John's Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, California) is located in Oakland, California
St. John's Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, California)
St. John's Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, California) is located in California
St. John's Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, California)
St. John's Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, California) is located in the United States
St. John's Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, California)
Location2640 College Ave., Berkeley, California
Coordinates37°51′44″N 122°15′8″W / 37.86222°N 122.25222°W / 37.86222; -122.25222Coordinates: 37°51′44″N 122°15′8″W / 37.86222°N 122.25222°W / 37.86222; -122.25222
Area0.6 acres (0.24 ha)
ArchitectJulia Morgan
Architectural styleAmerican Craftsman
NRHP reference #74000507[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPAugust 7, 1974
Designated BERKLDecember 15, 1975[2]

The Julia Morgan Theater, located in the former St. John's Presbyterian Church, is a historic building in Berkeley, California designed by architect Julia Morgan.[3] The wooden building at 2640 College Avenue is built in the American Craftsman style with an exterior wood-shingle finish known as Berkeley Brown Shingle.[4] The church building was desanctified and sold when the congregation moved to a new building in 1974. It now houses the Berkeley Playhouse. The structure is #8 on the city of Berkeley's list of historic landmarks. In 1975 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places (listing #74000507).[5]


The church was organized in 1907 to serve the influx of people moving from San Francisco to Berkeley after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the church building was completed in 1910. The church was named to honor St. John's Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, which many of the new congregants had attended and whose pastor, Dr. George Granville Eldridge, became the founding pastor of St. John's in Berkeley.[6] Subsequent pastors included Dr. Stanley Armstrong Hunter (1924-1954), Dr. James Comfort Smith (1954-1970), Dr. Robert A. McKenzie (1970-1983), Dr. Thomas McKnight (1984-2001), and Dr. Max Lynn (2002-present).[7]


Julia Morgan and her assistant Walter Steilberg chose a design with broad gables and a stained shingle exterior. The redwood paneled interior leaves the wooden beams and trusses completely exposed, while smoked glass clerstory windows provide most of the light. "This structural exhibitionism forms a worship space of great visual interest. … The small scale of the church and the warm color of the wood help create a cozy and restful space while the plain lumber serves to remind one of God's creation—the unadorned beauty of natural materials." [8] Morgan herself considered it to be her best Craftsman building.[9]

Arts center and theater[edit]

In 1974-75 the congregation moved to a new modern sanctuary at 2727 College Avenue, and the fate of the Julia Morgan building was uncertain. The desire to preserve it from demolition was the major catalyst leading to the formation of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association in 1974.[10] The building seemed suitable for use as an arts center, and after a brief incarnation as the Center for World Music, the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts took over the building in 1980. It housed the Berkeley Opera, the Berkeley Ballet Theater, and various theatrical productions as well as arts classes. In 2009 the Julia Morgan Center merged with the Berkeley Playhouse, a theater company founded in 2007 by artistic director Elizabeth McKoy.[11] The Playhouse produces several plays and musicals per year, as well as offering theatrical instruction for a variety of ages and skill levels. The building is known as the Julia Morgan Theatre.[12]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
  2. ^ "Berkely Landmarks". Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. Retrieved 2013-03-04.
  3. ^ "The beauties that legendary Julia Morgan left behind", San Jose Mercury News, July 26, 2008
  4. ^ "The brown shingle home: A distinctive Berkeley feature", The Berkeley Daily Planet, October 7, 2001
  5. ^ John's
  6. ^ Thompson, Daniella. "St. John's Presbyterian Church". Berkeley Landmarks. Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  7. ^ "History". St. John's Presbyterian Church Center. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  8. ^ Brack, Mark L., Redefining Religious Architecture, cited at
  9. ^ "An Architect from the Inside Out, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 1988
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Julia Morgan Center, Berkeley Playhouse Merge", Berkeley Daily Planet, July 16, 2009
  12. ^ "About Berkeley Playhouse". Berkeley Playhouse. Retrieved 5 September 2012.

External links[edit]