c.1896 12

Hamilton Hall (sometimes called Hamilton Church) was built in 1870 as the first purpose-built church building for the Independent Presbyterian Church, known today as the First Unitarian Church. It was on the southeast corner of 13th and Jefferson, and named for the first pastor and founder, Rev. Laurentine Hamilton. Over the years, countless sermons, lectures, concerts, and more were given at Hamilton Hall. It also provided temporary classrooms for Oakland High School after a fire damaged its building.

In 1882, Rev. Hamilton died while preaching a sermon at Hamilton Hall. The Unitarian church seems to have met there until at least 1883. In 1885, Hamilton's widow posted notice that the building was for sale, but was mortgaged for approximately $10,000. 10 One of the potential buyers was the First Hebrew Congregation, known today as Temple Sinai, but they were unable to secure the building. Ultimately, J.C. Gilson purchased the building. In January 1886, he remodeled and rearranged the upper floor to provide more small meeting rooms for smaller groups. 11

(Meanwhile, the Unitarians re-organized in 1886, and started meeting at the Odd Fellows' Hall at Franklin and 11th, but they returned to Hamilton Hall later. Their new building at 14th and Castro was built in 1890-1891.)

The 1887 directory lists Gilson as the proprietor of Hamilton Hall, and lists the following groups and individuals as meeting there: 1

The First Unitarian Society, under Rev. Charles Wendte, met at Hamilton Hall again in 1889-1890.

After a fire badly damaged Oakland High School in 1889, classes were temporarily held in Hamilton Hall. 2

In 1894, Gilson built an addition and remodeled the building for use by lodges. 13

c.1898-1901, Gilson ran a small school for boys in the building. 8 Gilson had been a teacher, and the Oakland superintendent of schools.

Christopher Maher purchased the building from Jewett and Carrie Gilson in 1904. It was suggested that the plan was to tear the building down in a couple of years and build "a modern business block." He owned the building until his death in 1918. 4,7

A fire damaged the building in 1905. At the time, the First Christian Church used the first floor to hold its services. 9

In 1912, police raided a Socialist meeting at Hamilton Hall. Men and women were clubbed and forced from the building. That along with police attacks against the I.W.W. led to them joining forces in a recall effort against mayor Frank K. Mott and safety commissioner Fred C. Turner. Among the injured was Frank Strawn Hamilton, Alameda County organizer of the Socialists, made famous in Jack London's 1909 book Martin Eden. 3

The building was demolished in 1917. Oddly, the cornerstone went missing. 14

References in the Tribune fade after 1918 when Maher died, and are mostly of the form "20 years ago today." A new building was constructed sometime before January 1923 5,6 and is shown on the 1951 Sanborn map. Today, the location is the site of the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building.

NB: The 1912 Sanborn map labels it Hamilton Auditorium.

1889 Sanborn excerpt1902 Sanborn excerpt1912 Sanborn excerpt1951 Sanborn excerpt

[ Question: some of the early directories (1872-1875) describe the building as being at 12th and Jefferson. Was there an earlier building, or was the description in the directories wrong? It is listed at 13th and Jefferson in the 1876 directory. ]
[Possible clue -- the church purchased the entire block in 1869, and the article noted that the property already had a house. The clip feature on CDNC isn't working unless users are logged in, but try this link or see the clip image below.]

Links and References

  1. Husted's Oakland Directory 1887
  2. The Oakland High School Again In Flames Oakland Tribune November 7, 1889
  3. Threaten To Invoke Recall Oakland Tribune March 4, 1912 (p2)
  4. Christopher Maher Funeral Tomorrow Oakland Tribune September 17, 1918
  5. classified ad Oakland Tribune January 25, 1923
  6. L.A. Investors Buy In Eastbay Oakland Tribune December 1, 1924
  7. Hamilton Hall Sold For $40,000 Oakland Tribune June 24, 1904
  8. ad Oakland Tribune January 26, 1901
  9. Flames Threaten Hamilton Hall Oakland Tribune November 20, 1905
  10. Administratrix' Notice of Sale of Real and Personal Estate Oakland Tribune October 9, 1885
  11. Building Matters Oakland Tribune January 9, 1886
  12. Oakland - Athens of the Pacific by G.W. Calderwood and G.T. Loufbourow, 1896
  13. For Lodge Purposes Oakland Enquirer June 12, 1894
  14. Landmark Cornerstone Missing Oakland Tribune November 22, 1917