The Berkeley Ward of the Oakland Stake of Zion here in California’s East Bay just celebrated 75 years since the dedication of our beautiful building. As part of the commemoration, my wife was asked to assemble and beautifully present some of the photographs and other paraphernalia related to the building’s history.
The Berkeley Ward Building is noted in the area for its remarkable beauty. When Church Historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen recently visited our stake, the presidency arranged a special fireside in Berkeley—partly to show off the building.
The building was designed by Mormon architect Theo. G. Ruegg. A quick Google search on the gentleman returns nearly nil and so to remedy this shameful fact, I am going to reprint here on AMV a bio written of Brother Ruegg over thirty years ago. Sadly, I am unable to attribute an author to this bio, but if you think you may know who in 1970s Berkeley wrote this piece, please share in the comments. I fixed a few errors and a couple other things that bothered me, but mostly this matches the typewritten bio with handwritten additions. Following the bio please enjoy some photos of his masterpiece taken by Jena Catanzaro. (The photo of Ruegg above dates from March 18, 1927, and is housed in the Berkeley Ward’s archives.)
Theodore Gottfried Ruegg
Born in 1893 at Hongg, Switzerland, Canton Zurich, to Pauline Bachofon Ruegg and Johann Ruegg.
In 1901, Theodore came to the United States with his parents, who were converts to the Mormon church, and sisters, Dora, Gertrude, and Hannah, where they first settled in Providence, Utah in April of 1907, then later came to San Francisco.
Theodore was apprenticed to a cabinet maker trade in his teens but continued his formal education at night school. An early interest in photography is evidenced by many pictures of the 1915 fair in San Francisco, and family events.
In 1917 Theodore became a naturalized citisen of the United States and passed the entrance examinations for the university and entered the Army in the S.A.T.C, unit at the University of California (what later became the R.O.T.C.) Honorable discharge followed in 1918 and he continued in his goal toward his long lasting endeavor of becoming an architect. He attended the University of California through 1920, at which time he commenced being a Draftsman, working with various prestige Architectural Firms.
In 1919 Theodore married Dora Coltrain [note on spelling] and they raised four children — Margaret, Theodora, Lois, and David.
In 1928-29 Theodore was President of the San Francisco Architectural League. Still continuing to study at night, he passed the state examinations and started his architectural practice in 1933.
During the thirties and forties Theodore designed many of the L.D.S. Churches throughout Northern California including the chapel he loved so much, Berkeley Ward.
Theodore taught at Samuel Gompers Trade School in San Francisco during the late thirties where many students received their first training in design.
Theodore was in the Sunday School Superintendency and later Ward Clerk of Berkeley Ward for many years.
On May 9, 1947 he was endowed in the Salt Lake Temple.
In 1951 Theodore married Venita Anderson and they later made their home in Reno, Nevada. Theodore worked for Delong Champs and O’Brien and with that firm was responsible for many public buildings in Reno and throughout Nevada. The firm later was acquired by Hewett C. Wells. The Reno Public Library, Buildings for the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, and The Community College Buildings in eastern Nevada were projects that Theodore lent his considerable skill as a constructionist and specification writer. He continued to practice Architecture until August of this year [1976?].
Theodore returned to Berkeley in early October of this year to be with his family during his waning life. He passed to the next life at Alta Bates Hospital in the early morning of December 29, 1976.
The following links are to Google Street View images of two other buildings I’m pretty sure (well over 80%) are also Ruegg’s. Enjoy!
9 thoughts on “Theo. G. Ruegg”
During my engaged and then married life in the Bay Area, I attended the University Ward, which meets in a Julia Morgan home just north of the Berkeley campus; the Berkeley Ward, which is featured here; and the Oakland First Ward, which meets at the Oakland stake center on Temple Hill. All three are architectural treasures (well not so much the stake center as the view of the grounds and temple), and it was wonderful being able to regularly worship at those locations. I understand and agree with the pragmatics of our current building and temple designs. But it’s also wonderful when our heritage buildings are kept in the family.
I was just reading about the Minneapolis Stake’s 50th anniversary. Unfortunately the original Minneapolis ward building was sold in the the 1950s or ’60s.
Thanks Th., this is great. Architects are sometimes overlooked. I’ll have to remember to look into some of the local LDS architects here in NYC.
Now I’m wondering who was the architect for the Brooklyn Chapel (built 1919 but sold in the 1950s like in Minneapolis as Wm mentioned.) It was the first LDS chapel constructed by the Church east of the Mississippi. In the chapel, it sported hand-painted symbols (all-seeing eye, patriarchal grip, compass and square, etc.) from the Temple in a runner that ran near the ceiling.
It was a victim of its size (it is way too small for an LDS chapel today) and of the decline of the neighborhood (it is just blocks from the infamous Bedford-Styvesant neighborhod in Brooklyn).
Gorgeous building, it somehow combines mission-style California with early Mormon sacred. Thanks for showing this off and spotlighting the brilliant architect.
Very beautiful building. Thanks for posting this.
This post makes me a little sad because I love architecture and most Mormon church buildings are so ugly.
My wife was in charge of the historical displays for the anniversary and my greatest wish is that we had the time and money to scan the original architectural drawings Ruegg made. They are beautifully rendered and stunningly detailed. The man clearly had a passion for making this church building beautiful in the way we have traditionally thought of making our temples beautiful.
As a genealogist, I thought it is important to correct Theo Ruegg’s first wife’s name: Dora Muir Coltrin, daughter of Zebedee Louis Coltrin and Mary Ann (Molly) Muir. As a footnote, Dora Coltrin was a great grand-daughter of a prominent early Mormon: Zebedee Coltrin (1804-1887). She was b. 15 Sep 1900 and d. 21 Sep 1968.
Based on your name, I feel pretty safe assuming your sources are better than my single source.
Everything was accurate. Dorothy’s comments about my mother are also accurate. My sister’s have all passed on and I am the sole survivor. My wife and I still live in Berkeley. Feb 21, 2014