History of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto

The Early Years: Building a Church

Construction of UUCPA

Although a Unitarian church did exist in Palo Alto from 1906-1929, the present congregation began on April 13, 1947, when a charter membership roll was signed by 27 people. Initially, the small congregation was served by the minister of the San Jose Unitarian Church, whose support contributed significantly to the success of the Palo Alto group.

The congregation’s first settled minister, Rev. Felix Danford (Dan) Lion, was called in June 1949. Lion looked upon his role of establishing a liberal church in a college community as a challenge and an opportunity. In his words, “Those early 50s were days of political regression and repression, with Senator Joseph McCarthy bamboozling the American people…we as a church managed to raise aloft the standard of freedom to which many could repair.” Principles went into practice in 1952 when the Board of Directors refused to sign the loyalty oath required for a tax exemption.

The congregation first met in the Women's Club building and then in the Palo Alto Community Center. In 1954, without outside financial assistance from outside denominational sources, the five-acre Charleston Road site was purchased for $30,000. Future Home The present buildings, designed by the noted architect Joseph Esherick, were proudly dedicated on October 14, 1958.

The initial plan was to build a sanctuary after the original debt was paid off, but when the time arrived the congregation voted to put its money into people and the community instead of adding to its real estate. Therefore, the Main Hall with its soaring arches and natural cedar walls continues to be used as a place for worship, meetings, dinners, concerts, dances, weddings, and memorial services.

This film was shot by Donald Borthwick and William Kellogg from March to July 1958. It features the groundbreaking and construction of the church main hall and buildings. In 2007, Rae and Elton Bell had the 8mm film digitized and transferred onto a DVD to show at a UUCPA celebration.

The 1950s and 60s were times of rapid growth for the congregation, which was primarily made up of young families. Before the church could occupy its new site, church school attendance swelled to over 400 children. In 1956, double sessions of classes were held to correspond with the two adult church New Church services. In 1959, a third class session needed to be added. As the membership increased, the church fostered spin-off congregations in San Mateo, Redwood City, and Sunnyvale. (Much later, in 1992, UUCPA was one of three sponsoring churches for the new Mission Peak congregation in Fremont).

History of UUCPA, Index
The Early Years: Building a Church
1960s - 1980s: UUCPA and Social Unrest
The 90s: Expanding Leadership
Religious Education and Music: Centering the Community
The 21st Century: Building a Church Continued
New Parish Minister is Called


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