This is the largest of Cass Gilbert's four churches in the area (the others are the Virginia Street Swedenborgian Church, St. Clement's Episcopal, and the former German Bethlehem Church at the foot of Ramsey Hill). Though Gilbert was talented – he went on to design the Minnesota State Capitol, New York's Woolworth building, and the U.S. Supreme Court building among many others – for this commission he had the inside track: His mother was a founding member of the congregation.
Born in 1859, Gilbert came to St. Paul from Zanesville, Ohio, in 1868. The Dayton Avenue congregation built a frame building on the site in 1873. The contrast between the original building and this one demonstrates the church's growth in numbers and resources.
The stone is Lake Superior sandstone, a popular medium of the time, and the design favors that of the influential architect H.H. Richardson, hence Richardsonian Romanesque. Having grown up Presbyterian, Gilbert knew the congregation desired a simple functionality inside. As architectural historian Larry Millet noted, “within, there's a column-free auditorium with a radial design and vaulted ceiling.” The building was dedicated in 1888.