Wesley United Methodist Church

1164 San Bernard Street, 78702
1980-2000 (Master Plan)
Art Deco, Gothic Revival
Historic Status:
National Register of Historic Places, Texas Historic Landmark, Austin Landmark


Located at the southwest corner of Hackberry and San Bernard Streets, Wesley United Methodist Church is a brick Gothic Revival structure with two three-story towers flanking a gabled north facade. The property, less than one acre, includes the church, offices, and a parsonage (now rented to faith-based nonprofit organizations). This historic site is home to the Wesley United Methodist Church congregation and has strong ties to Huston-Tillotson University a few blocks away.


Wesley United Methodist Church is home to a congregation with a rich history and a deep commitment to community, education, and civil rights. The original church, founded in 1865 by formerly enslaved people after the Civil War, was located downtown at Ninth and Neches Street before church leaders were coerced into relocating to East Austin as part of the City of Austin’s segregationist 1928 Master Plan. Under the direction of Reverend W. L. Turner, the congregation built a new church, known as the “Greater Wesley,” for approximately $50,000 in 1929. At the time, Wesley was one of the largest African American churches in Texas.

The church hall has a sacred and calming presence; the large, vaulted space with exposed wood trusses is indicative of Gothic Revival architecture in its detailed craftsmanship, exposed structure, and stained-glass windows. The space is large enough to hold a congregation of up to 350 members. The walls are decorated with brass pipes from the only pipe organ owned by a Black church in Austin (the organ itself is no longer extant) and Wesley’s Music Program remains an important aspect of the church.

Wesley is highly regarded for its community involvement; church facilities have been used as classrooms for Samuel Huston College (now part of Huston-Tillotson University) and as a formal event space for the West Texas Methodist Conference. The congregation works with the Austin Independent School District to assist Black students, and helped establish the Austin Area Urban League in 1977. The church also owns the African American Cultural Heritage District office, a nonprofit organization that promotes the diverse culture and rich history of East Austin.

Wesley United Methodist Church celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015, during which members documented how the church has evolved over generations. The church’s founding during a time of social upheaval shaped its mission into one that prioritizes education, music, and faith. As the nation changed, the church changed as well. The Civil Rights Movement merged previously segregated congregations into the United Methodist Church in 1968. The structure that has housed the congregation since 1929 embodies a community grounded in resilience and unity through faith and community outreach. As East Austin faces gentrification, many Black churches have relocated to be closer to their congregants, who have been forced out of the surrounding neighborhood. However, Pastor Sylvester E. Chase proudly states: “Wesley will stay put until the end. We know we are not going to move.” – Maanasa Nathan, NOMA

Photo Credits:

Leonid Furmansky