Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No. 136 - St Mary of the Angels Church

St Mary of the Angels Church

St Mary of the Angels Church
1930 – Carleton M. Winslow
4510 Finley Avenue – map
Declared: 12/4/74

Father Neal Dodd, born in 1879, made his way from Nashotah, Wisconsin, to California in 1917, and began to hold small services in a rented barn or store on North Vermont, just above Hollywood Boulevard. Soon after, when he was introduced to the movie business following a studio’s take-over of the space by leasing it for more money, Fr Dodd got the idea to establish an Anglo-Catholic church primarily for folks of the film world.

St Mary of the Angels Church

With his St Mary of the Angels at 1724 North Vermont, Dodd became “the Padre of Hollywood,” beginning to serve as technical director of religious scenes on films and even appearing in them as members of the clergy, maybe as early as 1917. The first clergyman to hold a SAG card, Dodd went on to appear in lots of features, including It Happened One Night, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Sorry, Wrong Number. He further solidified his standing in the Hollywood community by marrying Jack Pickford to Marilyn Miller and William S. Hart, “the two-gun Romeo of wild-west motion pictures”, to Winifred Westover, “a blonde of striking beauty.” And Dodd was there to preside at the funeral of Wallace Reid.

St Mary of the Angels Church

A fund-raising campaign for a new church building was announced at the end of 1919 with “all the money for the church … to come from motion–picture folks.” Carleton M. Winslow had already drawn up plans for the building that included a community center, a gymnasium, and a pool and billiard room – in other words, your ordinary church. The cost was estimated at $100,000. Something went wrong though, because a year and a half later, the church was still trying to get together some money, including by holding a benefit carnival somewhere on Highland. It was announced at that time that earlier plans to build an exact replica of Manhattan’s “Little Church Around the Corner” (a church well-known for its ties to the theatrical community) had been scrapped with Winslow now designing a “Neo-Spanish” building to cost about $250,000. Now, plans included “a community center, with a great auditorium, a gymnasium, shower baths, pool and billiard room, bowling alley and extensive library.” Your ordinary church, but with a bowling alley.

St Mary of the Angels Church
St Mary of the Angels Church
Renaissance Revival entrance

By 1923, though, the new Our Church of St Mary’s of the Angels, “The Church of the Motion-Picture People”, consisted of “just one large room and one little one in a white-painted wooden building” with folding chairs serving as pews. Located at 1743 North New Hampshire, it was here where what became the Motion Picture and Television Fund was first housed.

St Mary of the Angels Church
Altar dedicated to St Genesius, Patron Saint of Actors

Now, for the landmark. Designed by Winslow, whom we’ve already met at Nos 46 and 66, the church stands on donated land off the corner of Hillhurst and Finley. The new St Mary’s celebrated its First Mass on May 18, 1930 and received its consecration on July 10, 1932. When I was there, I noticed neither a billiard room nor a bowling alley.

Dodd, “the motion picture people’s friend”, passed away in 1966, about fifteen years after his retirement.

St Mary of the Angels Church

Upset over changes in the Episcopal Church's General Convention in 1976 – namely, approving the ordination of women along with changes to the Book of Common Prayer – the parish split from the Episcopalians in 1977. Today the still Anglo-Catholic church is presided over by the Rev. Fr Christopher Kelley, SSC, the parish’s fifth rector.

St Mary of the Angels Church


“Plan Church for Filmdom People.” Los Angeles Times; Dec 27, 1919, p. II2

“To Launch Campaign for Funds.” Los Angeles Times; May 29, 1921, p. V4

“Bill Hart is Married Here.” Los Angeles Times, Dec 8, 1921, p. II1

“Filmland has Ideal Church” Los Angeles Times; Nov 22, 1922, p. II3

Lipke, Katherine “Our One-Man Churches” Los Angeles Times, Mar 4, 1923, p. III13

“Services Held for ‘Padre of Hollywood’” Los Angeles Times; Jun 1, 1966, p. A2

Slide, Anthony. Silent Topics: Essays on Undocumented Areas of Silent Film Scarecrow Press 2005 Lanham, Maryland

Up next: Finney’s Cafeteria

1 comment:

Nathan said...

Bowling alley, huh? Nothing but trouble. To which anyone who’s seen “There Will Be Blood” can attest.