Overcoming a Disastrous Fire
In 1992, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the church’s construction by launching the Second Century Project, a fundraising campaign to save and restore our historic church, expand classroom space, and improve accessibility for people with disabilities. The restoration program was tragically interrupted when, on October 16, 1995, the church was gutted by a six-alarm fire. For three years the congregation met for worship outside the building, moving back into the sanctuary in 1998. Work and fundraising continued until the building was completed in 2001 at a cost of $8 million.
In 1993, we began an intentional ministry to serve Spanish-speaking people who were seeking a liberal religious home. While the growth of the ministry was interrupted by the fire, in 1998, the Rev. Lilia Cuervo, the first Latin American immigrant woman to study for the Unitarian Universalist ministry, was called to serve as our Extension Minister for Spanish Speaking Ministries, offering a weekly Sunday service in Spanish, as well as pastoral counseling and other support services.
For over 100 years, the church building had served, not only as our spiritual home, but as a de facto community center. In the process of rebuilding from the fire, the church kept the needs of the larger community in mind. In 1998 the church founded the Third Street Community Center, a separate non-profit housed in the lower level of the building which has expanded and improved the non-sectarian community use of the building. The Third Street Community Center houses the Don Edwards Computer Learning Academy, an after-school program, and ESL classes serving low-income and immigrant neighbors.
On September 23, 2001, exactly 110 years after the laying of the cornerstone, the church celebrated the completion of the re-building project with a large community celebration, placing the names of those who had helped in this effort as well as a brief history of the project in the cornerstone time capsule. In addition to the church and the Third Street Community Center, many other community groups have been eager to use the facility.
We are very grateful for the broad community support and enormous dedication of the congregation which helped us through our time of exile, and which have allowed us to realize our dream of re-opening our building. We look forward to many more years of serving the community.