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Foothills Congregational: 100 years and counting – Los Altos church celebrates a century of worship

Los Altos church in 1914, left, featured a bell tower and an arched front window. Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Barnes

Foothills Congregational Church – the oldest church building in Los Altos – is scheduled to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its sanctuary 3-5:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at 461 Orange Ave.

The contents of a metal-box time capsule, sealed upon the sanctuary’s consecration Aug. 23, 1914, will be on display at the event. The celebration will include food, music and displays about the church’s current programs and the community groups that use its facilities.

“It’s a special day to be celebrating a 100-year-old building – a very lively building – in the heart of Silicon Valley,” said the Rev. Matthew Broadbent, senior minister at Foothills Congregational Church. “From the start of our plans, we wanted to include as many community friends as possible.”

The list of local groups currently using the church facilities includes Al-Anon, the League of Women Voters, Child Advocates, Insight Meditation, Los Altos Parent Preschool, Los Altos Voices for Peace, Pre-School Mandarin, the Cantabile Youth Singers, Boy Scout Troop 76 and Pilgrimage Home Meditation.

Groups partially supported by the Foothills Church Outreach Board – and also part of the celebration – include the Santa Clara County Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy, Mayview Health Center, the Community Services Agency in Mountain View, the San Jose Family Shelter, the RotaCare Bay Area Clinic, the Support Network for Battered Women, Alta Vista High School Case Management and Pathways Hospice.

After an outdoor party, guests will adjourn to the sanctuary, which will be reconsecrated and dedicated by Broadbent and the Rev. Malcolm Young, pastor of Christ Episcopal Church of Los Altos. Christ Episcopal sold the property to the newly organized Foothills congregation after it outgrew its buildings in 1961.

“Our congregation has many happy memories of the days when we worshipped on Orange Avenue and feels very grateful to Foothills Congregational for including us in this celebration,” Young said.

Historical landmark

Renowned architect Ernest Coxhead designed the wisteria-laden church with its distinctive bell tower. It remains a fine example of the Bay Area Traditional style, a regional interpretation of the Eastern Shingle style. Architects such as Coxhead, Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan linked buildings to nature by using local materials like redwood, with an emphasis on craftsmanship, form and asymmetry. Coxhead, an Englishman, added the cozy charm of leaded-glass windows and hand-carved interior beams to his church design.

The U.S. Department of the Interior placed the local landmark on its National Register of Historical Places in 1982. The church is also listed on the Los Altos Historic Resources Inventory list.

A small group of Episcopalians had been meeting in downtown Los Altos since February 1913. By the following February, they raised enough money to purchase two lots on Orange Avenue for $750 from Altos Land Co. The lots were listed for $750 each, but the church scooped them up at half-price. The bargain might have been influenced by the fact that Paul Shoup, one of the founders of Los Altos, owned Altos Land Co., and his wife, Rose, was among the church’s earliest parishioners. Two of the Shoups’ children, Jack and Louise, were members of the church’s first Confirmation class.

The land for the new church sat across the railroad tracks from the Blossom Valley line in a prime developing residential neighborhood. The deed stipulated that “no intoxicating liquor may be manufactured or sold; no store, public wood-yard or laundry or other business houses shall be placed on said premises.”
    The cornerstone was laid on April 14, 1914.
    “It was a gala occasion, with visitors and vested choirs,” according to Margaret Thompson, Christ Episcopal Church archivist. “Rose Wilson Shoup loaned her piano, which was brought by wagon. The weather was sunny and warm for the outdoor ceremony.”
    In 1926, the church expanded the complex, adding the Guild Hall, kitchen, Parish Hall and Vestry Room. By 1933, the total value of the buildings reached $18,000, with the land valued at $1,500. During World War II, the Guild Hall became a disaster center, staffed and managed by local women. According to Willie Kirschbaum, recording her impressions in the 1960s of the war years, “Mrs. Sam Kahn, wife of the local pharmacist, a nurse, ran the Orange Avenue hall as a disaster center and Red Cross Facility.”
    Despite building new rooms and additions in 1951, Christ Episcopal could not accommodate the congregation’s rapid post-war growth – by the mid-1950s, the church was bursting at its seams. The congregation purchased land for a new church on Border Road in Los Altos, and Christ Episcopal held worship services there beginning in 1961.
    In 1961, the Episcopalians sold the Orange Avenue complex to the newly organized Foothills Congregational Church for $72,000. The land that is now Lincoln Park, across the street from the church, was an unused railroad right-of-way that in winter was a sea of mud and in summer a weed patch.
    Over the next 50 years, the Foothills congregation constructed a new Parish Hall and Church School building, renovated the sanctuary and unearthed the time capsule buried in 1914 (see sidebar below for a list of contents).
    Today, Foothills Congregational Church defines its mission: “To be a caring community, combining intellectual integrity with compassionate hearts.” Its vision is “To open our doors to all who seek to know the Spirit of Christ in an open, affirming, inclusive Ministry of love for each other, our community and our world.”
    For more information, visit foothills-church.org.

Contents of Foothills church’s time capsule:

The time capsule at Foothills Congregational Church – buried in 1914 and uncovered during renovations in 1996 – contains the following items.

• “The Cathedral Missionary,” December 1913

• “The Cathedral Missionary,” March 1914

• Office for the Laying of a Corner Stone, 1900, from “The Book of Other Rites and Ceremonies, 1893”

• Manual of the Diocese of California, 1907

• “The Pacific Churchman,” San Francisco, March 1914

• San Francisco Examiner, April 14, 1914

• San Francisco Chronicle, April 14, 1914

• Mountain View Leader Register, April 3, 1914

• Los Altos News, April 4, 1914

• Map of Los Altos, 1907

• Time Tables, Peninsula Railway Co. Blossom Line, April 1914

• Southern Pacific Time Tables, January 1914

• Membership List of the Woman’s Guild of Christ Episcopal Church, Los Altos, June 18, 1913

• “Los Altos,” a promotional pamphlet prepared by the Los Altos Co.

• Sunset, The Pacific Monthly, April 1914

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