The Waller Center Opens in the Heart of a Community

November 01, 2012

By Kelly Newell and Jane Horstman*

The Waller Center, a new urban community center nestled on the outskirts of the San Francisco neighborhood of Cole Valley and adjacent to Haight Ashbury, officially opened its doors to the community on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012.
It was the vision of the Board of Camping and Retreat Ministries to transform the former Hamilton United Methodist Church, on the corner of Waller and Belvedere streets, into Waller Center – a vibrant ecumenical urban retreat and conference center – by the fall of 2013.
The Waller Center will feature a gymnasium, small conference rooms, a full professional kitchen, community dining area, and overnight accommodations for up to 40 individuals.
As a community center for the local neighborhood, Waller Center will provide spaces for performances, meetings, and social gatherings. Currently there are few large community meeting spaces in the Cole Valley/Haight Ashbury vicinity, and very limited overnight accommodations suitable for visiting groups that include young people.
Providing opportunities to serve
Constructed in 1906, and thought to be designed by Bernard Maybeck and Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan, Hamilton United Methodist Church had a long history of service to the Haight Ashbury/Cole Valley community.
The first family shelter in San Francisco was housed at the Hamilton Family Center, established in 1985. Other nonprofit agencies that spun off from the church's original mission work included the Homeless Prenatal Program, the Homeless Children's Network, the Family Shelter Alliance, and Home-away from Homelessness. In 2001 the Waller Street Shelter became known as the Hamilton Family Emergency Center, providing emergency overnight and 60-day shelter for up to 70 persons nightly.
The Haight Ashbury Food Program, a program that received special recognition from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, currently operates a food pantry program out of the Waller Street property.
With this history of community service, the Waller Center will serve the community both as a center for neighborhood activities and as an urban ministry center for organizations looking for accommodations or conference space. Working in concert with the neighborhood and surrounding United Methodist churches (such as Glide Memorial), the Waller Center will be a facility for ecumenical and nonprofit organizations seeking a safe, comfortable place to convene within an urban environment. Not only will it provide meeting space, but it also will offer groups an opportunity to participate in an urban ministry program if they choose.
The beginning of the vision
Since the Board of Camping and Retreat Ministries acquired the property from the Conference Board of Trustees, there has been demonstrable energy surrounding the vision for this ministry, and a bustle of activity at the property itself. With some initial funding from the Board of Camping and Retreat Ministries' Vision Fund, a business plan was formulated and with help from volunteers, some of the initial clean up and painting has begun.
To date five groups of volunteers have pitched in to help transform the property: 16 youth for a volunteer work day in April; six youth and adults for a work day in May; six adults for two work days in June; five adults for work days in July; eight youth, plus chaperones, from out of state for four days at the end of July and beginning of August; 30 California-Nevada Annual Conference youth, plus chaperones, for a Conference youth mission retreat in September; and 24 adults for a work day in October. The volunteer work hours so far total more than 800!
The center has hosted two youth groups (totaling 28 youth) and a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) group for retreats and to help with volunteer projects.
It already has been the venue for a concert for 150 people, and a group has reserved the conference facility for the future.
Waller Center also will serve as a polling station on Nov. 6.
Future projects
  • Basic renovations, including: immediate property improvements, permitting and licensing requirements, insurance coverage, initial equipment purchases by December 2012;
  • Major remodeling and beautification by June 2013;
  • Full programming and staffing by December 2013.
There are plans for future fund development toward complete renovation and there is a great deal of interest in possible future use and partnerships.
Matthew Pearson, who has experience in ministry in San Francisco, is the new onsite host and is helping with program development and community outreach. The Board of Camping and Retreat Ministries welcomes anyone who would like to know more about the ministry vision for the Waller Center and/or who would like to visit it to see the work in progress first hand.
For more information or to schedule a visit, contact Kelly Newell at 916.374.1515 or To receive facility request forms, contact Kelly Newell, or Matthew Pearson,

For more photos, visit the 'Waller Center Open House' photo gallery.

*Kelly Newell is director of young people's ministries and camping for the California-Nevada Annual Conference. Conference Technologies Specialist Jane Horstman also serves as a writer and as the assistant editor for Conference publications.