A. C. Schweinfurth, Architect


A. C. Schweinfurth, Architect

First Unitarian Church, 1898
2401 Bancroft Way
designated in 1981

Son of a German engineer who immigrated to the U.S. in 1849, Albert Cicero Schweinfurth received his introductory design training at his father’s architectural ornament business in Auburn, New York. After working in Boston, New York, Cleveland, and Denver, he moved to San Francisco in 1890 to became chief designer in A. Page Brown’s office, where his colleagues were Willis Polk and Bernard Maybeck. He was responsible for executing major commissions in San Francisco, including the Ferry Building (1893–98) and Trinity Episcopal Church. Schweinfurth and Brown are credited with having been the first to introduce the Mission Revival style, in the California Building they designed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Columbian Exposition.

In 1894, Schweinfurth established a successful independent practice under William Randolph Hearst’s patronage. The Hearsts depended upon him for their architectural projects, as they would later depend on Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan.

Practicing in San Francisco, Schweinfurth designed two important Berkeley landmarks. In 1896, retired banker Volney D. Moody and his family commissioned him to design Weltevreden (1755 Le Roy Avenue). Clad in clinker bricks and flanked by Dutch stepped gables, this Northside residence was described in Sunset magazine as “most beautiful of all” and the “premier residence of Berkeley.”

Schweinfurth’s audacious design for the shingle-style First Unitarian Church (1898), located at the corner of Dana Street and Bancroft Way, features an enormous squat gable, exceptionally heavy rough beams resting on unpeeled redwood trunks, metal sash windows, and an apse resembling a power station. Members of the congregation included early settlers of Berkeley’s Northside and founders of the Hillside Club, among them Bernard and Annie Maybeck, Charles and Louise Keeler, and Oscar and Madge Maurer.

In 1898, Schweinfurth embarked on a study voyage through Europe. On return, he contracted typhoid fever and died on September 27, 1900, aged 37.

Contributed by Daniella Thompson, 2013

  • Weltevreden postcard, Sarah Wikander collection

  • Apse, First Unitarian Church, photo (2004) Daniella Thompson

  • First Unitarian Church, photo (2004) Daniella Thompson

  • South elevation First Unitarian Church, photo (2004) Daniella Thompson

  • Albert Schweinfurth, BAHA Archives

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society