Built in 1890, St. John’s Church was designed by Ernest A. Coxhead, a well-known San Francisco Bay architect. According to the Heritage Homes Foundation of Petaluma, “it embodies the characteristics of the rustic California ‘Bay Tradition,’ a regional expression of the 19th century Shingle Style that had its roots in the English Queen Anne.”
St John’s Parish was established in 1856, first constructing a small wooden church on the property at 5th and C, which had been donated by Petaluma pioneer G. McNear. In 1890, the congregation laid the cornerstone for a “beautiful and artistic structure that will be convenient, comfortable, and imposing, an ornament to our architecture and the best looking church in the county.” (Courier, Oct 15, 1890). The dedication was held on April 5, 1891, just six months later.
Ernest Coxhead completed his professional training in London before beginning his career in 1886 in Los Angeles. He had just moved to the San Francisco area when the vestry chose him to design their new church building. Of the twenty-four churches he designed throughout California, St. John’s is particularly noteworthy for being virtually intact with only a few minor alterations over the years.
Some of the details of interest in the building are a Romanesque entrance arch, a quatrefoil window over the door, the interior’s open beam ceiling with Elizabethan style truss-work, and glorious Gothic-shaped stained glass windows. The church is in use today as a continuing congregation of the Episcopal Church.
In December of 2006, the rector and part of the congregation of St. John’s broke ties with the Episcopal Church, affiliating with an Anglican group from South America. The remnant Episcopal congregation began to worship at the home of one of the parishioners. The first public worship service was at sunrise on Easter Sunday 2007 at Prince Park in Petaluma.
Thanks to the generosity and graciousness of Elim Lutheran Church, the congregation had the privilege of meeting in their sanctuary for more than two years. Pastor Tim Kellgren once said with a smile, “Oh, we are always looking out for the homeless!”
An agreement between the Anglican parish and the Episcopal Church was struck in the spring of 2009, giving the church building back to the remnant congregation. The last Mass as Elim’s grateful guests was celebrated on June 28, 2009, and the Episcopal congregation returned to the shingled building at Fifth and C Streets on Wednesday, July 1.
The Press Democrat and Argus Courier have published articles about the return to the church: