Sunday, January 25, 2009
Wilshire Christian Church Building
1927 – Robert H. Orr
634 South Normandie – map
Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 209, the Wilshire Christian Church Building, originates from the late 1920s, but the roots of the church itself stretch back 135 years.
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) held its first service on August 9, 1874, in the city’s Court House. The church was chartered a few months later, at the end of February 1875. In December 1881, the organization set up its first chapel on Temple Street property donated by dry goodsman Rev. B.F. Coulter between North Fort (Broadway) and Buena Vista. The Temple Street Christian Church became the First Christian Church of Los Angeles when it relocated to 11th and Hope Streets in July 1894 (this church building was razed in 1961). The congregation consisted of 1,200 members at this time, the largest church in the west.
Jump forward a decade to 1904, when Magnolia Avenue Christian Church was founded as a mission church at 25th and Magnolia.
Six years later, on February 13, 1910, thirteen members of Magnolia Avenue Church established the Wilshire Boulevard Christian Church. Their first meeting took place in a private home (rumored to be haunted and “carefully avoided by superstitious persons”) at 351 – later renumbered 255 – Normandie. They then held services in a large tent at Normandie Avenue and 4th Street. On the northeast corner of Wilshire and Normandie, on land donated by the Chapman Brothers Company – S.J., Charles C., and Col. Frank M. Chapman, the Wilshire Congregation opened a $30,000 bungalow church on June 4, 1911. It was the first church on Wilshire Boulevard. (The congregation also purchased an additional 125 feet on Normandie.)
Now, the landmark…
Architect Robert H. Orr had already designed a few Los Angeles-area churches – including the First Baptist Church in Sawtelle, the Hollywood Christian Church, and the Japanese Christian Church – by the time of the September 6, 1925, groundbreaking of Wilshire Boulevard Christian’s new Romanesque Revival home. When first announced, it was figured the building would run $400,000. This was at the start of spring 1924 when plans called for an “English Gothic” building comprising two units – the auditorium, with 1,500 seats, and Sunday school. Also to be included were and social hall and banquet room, a stage, gymnasium, lecture room, classrooms, and general offices.
By February 1925, the cost was now estimated at half a million. The Wurster Construction Company received the building contract later that August.
Dr M. Howard Fagan, pastor since 1919 when the congregation was made of less than 300 members, along with Dr J.H. Garrison, turned the first shovelful of earth at the 9/25 groundbreaking.
S.J. Chapman laid the cornerstone on May 23, 1926, with more than 600 people in attendance. Joe Crail, chairman of the official board, was the chief speaker. By this time, the church boasted more than 1,100 members. (This, trivially and for a bit of historic perspective, was a day before groundbreaking of the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard.)
By the building’s dedication on April 3, 1927, its cost was pegged at $407,000. Dr Charles S. Medbury, pastor of the University Christian Church and “the most useful citizen of Des Moines” according to a newspaper contest, gave the dedicatory sermon. Also part of the ceremony, Miss Julie Keller led an ensemble of seven harps and a violin. Mr and Mrs Lewis E. Grigsby presented a set of twenty-one chimes, installed at a cost of $14,000. Dedicatory meetings were held every evening for the following two weeks.
Here’s a shot of the monument’s Rose Stained-Glass Window, the recipient of the afternoon sun, by our friends at Judson Studios. Why didn’t they orient the building so this would face Wilshire, I wonder?
Orr’s three-story, reinforced concrete church building featured a seventy-five foot tall ceiling (still does, I guess), oak woodwork, and a floor covered with a “heavily padded Wilton carpet”. The organ case surrounding the bapistry had been ornamented with hand-carved panels. Today, the Sanctuary seats 950, and the smaller Mosely Chapel holds 110. The building’s Fellowship Hall contains a stage, dance floor, and gourmet kitchen. This last hall seats 350.
In 1935, the Wilshire Boulevard Christian Church merged with the Magnolia Avenue Christian Church. On May 19, 1940, the First Christian Church of Los Angeles then combined with Wilshire Boulevard Christian Church becoming, on May 23, 1945, the Wilshire Christian Church we know it today, still serving members of the Disciples of Christ congregation.
So, to re-cap: First Christian Church of Los Angeles (formerly Temple Street Christian Church and, before that, Christian Church) + Magnolia Avenue Christian Church + Wilshire Boulevard Christian Church = Wilshire Christian Church.
The Wilshire Christian Church Education Building replaced the 1911 bungalow in January 1959. The Wilshire Christian Manor retirement home next door was built in 1969.
(The black and white pictures are from the L.A. Public Library's online photo archive.)
“Launch Local Improvements” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 23, 1924, p. D1
“Anniversary for Church” The Los Angeles Times; Feb 7, 1925, p. A2
“Contract is Awarded on New Church” The Los Angeles Times; Aug 30, 1925, p. G5
“Start New Church Sunday” The Los Angeles Times; Sep 5, 1925, p. A2
“Church Will Celebrate” The Los Angeles Times; Feb 6, 1926, p. A2
“New Church Dedication on Sunday” The Los Angeles Times; May 21, 1926, p. A14
“Church Corner-stone Laid” The Los Angeles Times; May 24, 1926, p. A11
“Church Dedicated April 3” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 18, 1927, p. A8
“Church to be Dedicated” The Los Angeles Times; Apr 2, 1927, p. A2
“New Church Gets Aid at Dedication” The Los Angeles Times; Apr 4, 1927, p. A2
“Harp Ensemble Marked Success at New Church” The Los Angeles Times; Apr 6, 1927, p. A5
Up next: Terrace Park and Powers Place