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Our History

Years before the Plaza bore his name, Alonzo Erasmus Horton was one of San Diego’s early Unitarians.

In addition to driving the waterfront growth of the newly incorporated city of San Diego, the visionary businessman sought out others who wanted to establish a center for religious education and Unitarian thought. One of these was Judge Moses Luce, a Civil War hero, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and founder of what is today San Diego’s oldest law firm: Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps LLP.

Along with several other prominent San Diegans, their efforts bore fruit when a small group (including 10 children) met for the first time as the Unitarian Sunday School on June 22, 1873. Alonzo Horton donated their meeting space: Horton Hall, San Diego’s first public theater, containing 400 seats. Within a year the growing school held its first public worship service, and in 1877 it formally organized as The Unitarian Society of San Diego, with Judge Luce serving as its first president.

So began the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego. It has now served our community as a beacon of liberal thought for 130 years. It has also "seeded," in one way or another, the other five Unitarian Universalist congregations in San Diego County.

June 22, 1873 - First meeting of Unitarian Sunday School at Horton Hall, 6th and F Street.

April 1874 - First worship service held, Easter Sunday.

March 11, 1877 - Unitarian Society formally organized, Rev. David Cronyn called as first minister.

August 26, 1883 - First building dedicated at corner of 10th and F Street (new sanctuary added in 1887).

February 17, 1895 - Original building and sanctuary burned; meetings continue in Louis Opera House on 5th between B and C Streets.

1897 - Unity Hall built on west side of 6th between C and D Streets.

1899 - Rev. Elijah R. Watson arrives.

1919 - First Unitarian Church and community center established; San Diego Open Forum established.

January 7, 1945 - Rev. Peter Samson arrives.

April 1945 - Bard Hall dedicated.

1956 - Rev. John Ruskin Clark becomes minister.

1959 - First meeting at Front Street property.

April 3, 1960 - Service of dedication for First Church at Front Street in Hillcrest.

1964 - Unitarian Cooperative Preschool formed.

1978 - Revs. Tom and Carolyn Owen-Towle arrive as co-ministers.

June 2002 - Revs. Tom and Carolyn Owen-Towle retire.

Summer 2003 - Rev. Heather Lynn Hanson and Rev. Chester McCall serve as
co-Interim Ministers.

Fall 2004 - Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube called as Lead Minister and Rev. Julie Kain called as Minister.

September 14, 2008 - First Church opens a second campus in the South Bay area of San Diego, with the first service on October 5.

August 19, 2012 - New Welcome Center Dedication. Article. Photos.

Spring 2013 - Rev. Kathleen Owens is called as Minister.

June 2014 - Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube retires and Rev. Kathleen Owens is called as Lead Minister.

June 2014 - Ken Herman, Director of Music / Organist retires after 47 years at First Church. Article.

August 2014 - Liz Jones, Director of Religious Education and Family Ministry retires after 21 years at First Church. Article.

August 2014 - Rev. Jennifer Channin hired as Assistant Minister

January 2015 - Rev. Kathleen Owens installed as Lead Minister.

August 2015 - Rev. Ian W. Riddell hired as Minister of Music and Worship Arts.

January 2018 - Rev. Tania Marquez hired as Assistant Minister.

Some of the above are excerpted from The Unitarian Universalist Congregations of San Diego County: Celebrating 125 Years of Religious Freedom, edited by Nancy Fisk.

Alonzo E. Horton


First UU Church, 1890

First UU Church, 1916

Ground breaking ceremony for 6th Avenue building.