Tuesday, October 2, 2007
First African Methodist Episcopal Church Building
Destroyed by fire in 1972
801 South Towne Avenue – map
Los Angeles Monument No. 71, the First A.M.E. Church’s home for a chunk of the 21st century, had been vacant for a couple of years when it suffered a devastating fire on July 4, 1972. None of the homeless folks who had been camping out in the structure was injured, but the fire served as the final blow for the deteriorating building.
In 1901, Rev. Jarrett E. Edwards, then pastor of the First A.M.E. Church, commissioned a new home for his congregation in the style of the Gothic architecture he had seen on a recent trip to England.
The congregation set up its first church at the corner of 4th and Grand back in the early 1870s. It then moved into a succession of homes: 10th and Georgia; 1st and Main; San Pedro Street; and finally on Azusa Street, its last site before the 8th and South Towne church. The First A.M.E. Church now meets at 2270 South Harvard Avenue in Sugar Hill in a 1968 building designed by Paul R. Williams.
Although she died more than twenty years before this monument opened for holy business, it’s unthinkable to write about the First A.M.E. Church without at least mentioning Bridget “Biddy” Mason. In 1872, Mason co-founded L.A.’s branch of the Church in her downtown home.
Biddy/Biddie Mason was born a slave on August 15, 1818, probably in Georgia, but maybe Mississippi. After an arduous 1848 journey to the Utah Territory and then to Los Angeles three years later, Biddy and her three daughters were given their freedom in an 1856 court case.
Through nursing and midwifery, Biddy became a prominent businesswoman, landowner, and philanthropist in the post-Civil War days of Los Angeles. At the time of her death on January 15, 1891, Mason was living at 331 South Spring Street on a portion of land she had bought for $250 twenty-five years earlier. She’s buried in Boyle Heights’ Evergreen Cemetery under a tombstone placed in 1988. Today, there’s a Biddy Mason Park at 333 South Spring Street.
Below's a shot of the site at 8th and Towne today.
Oh, and if anyone has any recollections, first- or second-hand, of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr preaching here (at the former church, not La Candelaria Textiles), I sure would love to know about them.
Evelyn De Wolfe “Negro Church a Landmark” Los Angeles Times; Jan 15, 1971, p. H1
“Biddy Mason”, Notable Black American Women, Book 1. Gale Research, 1992.
And the black and white shots are from L.A.’s City Planning and Public Library websites.
Up next: Automobile Club of Southern California