First Unitarian Society of Denver

Stone exterior of the church. Photo by Jeffrey Beall, CC BY SA 2.0

Exterior of the First Unitarian Society of Denver. Photo by Jeffrey Beall, CC BY SA 2.0.

Quick Facts
1400 Lafayette St., Denver, CO
National Register of Historic Places
The First Unitarian Society of Denver is also known as the Plymouth Congregational Church.

The First Unitarian Society of Denver (FUST) church building is a large, stone edifice of rough-cut rhyolite in the Richardsonian Romanesque stlye located at the northeast corner of Lafayette Street and 14th Avenue within the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. Begun in 1893 by the architects Balcomb & Rice and completed in 1899 following the design of the prominent Denver architectural firm of Varian & Sterner, the church was first home to the Plymouth Congregational Church. Since 1958, the building has been home to FUSD.

The church is locally significant for its architecture as a fine example of the Romanesque Revival. The period of significance for Architecture is 1893 to 1899.

The First Unitarian Society of Denver is significant at the state level for social history as the location of the first religious ceremony for a same-sex wedding in Colorado, held in 1975. The wedding between Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan took place with a marriage license issued by Clela Rorex, a Boulder county clerk, under the rationale that nothing in the law specifically forbade same-sex marriages. When asked later, Rorex said, "I don't profess to be knowledgeable about homosexuality or even understand it... But it's not my business why people get married. No minority should be discriminated against." Metropolitan Community Church of the Rockies was a gay and lesbian congregation that shared office space with First Unitarian and worshiped in the chapen from September 1973 until it purchased its own building in 1979. The church was also the site of meetings for Denver's Gay Coalition, founded in 1972.

The church is further significant more broadly for its central role in civil rights issues pertaining to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, African American, immigrant, and numerous other communities, seeking to engage as a congregation since 1958 in causes related to social and racial justice. During the 1960s, the First Unitarian Society of Denver church became the local home for the non-violent civil rights organization, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1962, the Denver Chapter of CORE conducted its first strike campaign at the Denver Dry Goods Store on 16th Street. The General Manager at the time reportedly said he would "spend $1 million before he hired a black sales person," but reversed course and began integrating the sales staff after the non-violent protest.

In collaboration with Zion Baptist Church, a historic African American congregation in Denver, CORE implemented "housing testing" and "employment testing," uncovering the practice of redlining -- refusing loans or house insurance to non-white people or communities in Denver. The church raised funds and paid the fines of protestors involved in these activities. In the 1966, a Fair Housing Center was created at First Unitarian with volunteer staffing by the congregation.

In March 1965, members of the church traveled to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama as part of the historic three-week Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights. Later that year, church members held a rally on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol for James Reed, a Unitarian Universalist minister killed in Selma.

In October 1971, Rev. Richard Henry of the First Unitarian Society, his wife, and another congregant were among 40 arrested for protesting the Vietnam War with the group, Vietnam Vets Against the War. Standing in the street, the protestors held their hands behind their heads singing America the Beautiful as they were arrested. The Rev. Henry called out other clergy for not risking jail or fines to protest the war.

The period of significance for social history is from 1958 to 1979, beginning with the first year First Unitarian occupied the church and carried on its social justice programs from this location to the year the Metropolitcan Community Church of the Rockies, a gay and lesbian congregation that was hosted by First Unitarian in the building, purchased its own dedicated building.

The First Unitarian Church of Denver was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 14, 2017.

Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail

Last updated: May 20, 2019