Unitarian Church site

Location: Southwest corner 9th and Franklin
Religious institutions, Popular culture

Unitarian Church, 1891, drawing by Edward Lange, from Olympia Tribune Souvenir Issue, Washington State LibraryParking lot of First Baptist (2013), photo by Deb Ross

Yet another “paved Paradise” in downtown Olympia, this was once the site of the Unitarian Church. The church originally met in a building on Main Street (Capitol Way) between 7th and 8th, as seen in the 1879 Bird’s Eye View of Olympia (current site of Evergreen Plaza).  It boasted a number of prominent members, including John Miller Murphy and Pamela Case Hale, both noted for their progressive ideas on such issues as suffrage, education, and temperance. In the late 1880s the church hired what appears to have been their only professional full-time pastor, Napoleon Hoaglund, whose sermons were printed weekly by Murphy’s newspaper, the Washington Standard. At that time, plans developed to build a fine new church at the corner of Franklin and Ninth, the favored area for mainline churches in Olympia. The church borrowed funds from the American Unitarian Society to build the church. According to historian Bernice Sapp, the Unitarian church also built a row of flats on 10th Avenue, known as the Unitarian flats.  Unfortunately, soon after the church building was complete, Reverend Hoaglund departed back to New England, there was a nationwide recession, and the church went into a decline.

For a time, the building was operated as a dance hall and auditorium and was known as the Unity Auditorium. The Unitarians continued to meet here occasionally, as well as in the Hale Block owned by Pamela Case Hale. In the late 1890s, the Unity Church began holding regular services there, under the leadership of their pastor, Genevra Lake. But the American Unitarian Society brought an action to foreclose on the building and it passed into the hands of the Society in about 1900. Soon after this, the building was acquired by the Central Baptist Church, as a Sanborn Map shows it was owned by Central  Baptist in 1908. In December 1950, the St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was located just behind the Central Baptist Church, moved to its current location on 20th Avenue, and the Central Baptist Church (now First Baptist), moved into the former St. John’s  building, another example of “musical pews” in Olympia (see entry for Gloria Dei for more on this). A newspaper article of the time noted that the church planned to raze the old building to create parking for the church.

The current Olympia Unitarian Universalist Community is not organizationally related to this earlier society, which seems to have folded completely around the time of the foreclosure.

The location is now a parking lot.

More information:

Bernice Sapp, “Olympia 100 Years ago”

For more information on Napoleon Hoaglund, Pamela Case Hale, or John Miller Murphy, see the Residents section of this website.

 

 

 

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