This church is the work of a little-known but highly accomplished English-born architect named Ernest Coxhead. Coxhead is often credited in helping to define the San Francisco Bay Area’s distinctive building tradition: a tradition characterized by an unapologetic use of boards, siding and shingles for exterior walls; an overall simplicity in feel; and use of careful but sometimes incongruous decorative touches that reveal unsuspected sophistication and calculation. As you will observe, these features are much in evidence at the Church of the Messiah.
The Church of the Messiah was built between 1888 and 1889 for the modest sum of $4,592. It is both the oldest public building in continuous use and the oldest church building in continuous use in Orange County. Today, in the midst of the downtown area, it is difficult to picture the church’s original semi-rural setting within a meadow. That original context guided the architect’s formulation of his design and should also guide today’s viewer. Another significant change occurred in 1911, when the building was raised five feet to build a Parish Hall and other facilities underneath, and the entrance moved from the tower to the rear of the Nave. The two-story brick education building and its wing date from 1955 and 1969, respectively.