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The First United Presbyterian Church of Oakland was organized as a mission church on August 21, 1890 with twenty-seven charter members. The Rev. John Hanna, of Illinois, was called as the first founding pastor. Rev. Hanna was "a very remarkable man, and made quite an impression on the early members." Apparently, he rounded up the first congregation and arranged for the founding. However, his stay was a short four months, terminated in order to accept a call as pastor in Philadelphia, which had heard of his fine work in Oakland.
Following successive pastorates, Dr. James Francis Ross became pastor in 1913. During his pastorate, a new lot was bought in the Claremont-Rockridge district on College Avenue. The reason for moving from downtown Oakland to the new site was the perception that downtown was already adequately-churched. Greater need now seemed to exist in the residential areas.
Church Elder Duncan MacMillan led the construction of the present sanctuary under the guidance of his celebrated architect and boss, Julia Morgan. The construction was completed in 1917.