Friday, April 20, 2007

No. 16 - St Joseph's Church

St Joseph’s Church
1901 – Brothers Adrian and Leonard
Original Location: 218 East 12th Street
Declared: 5/10/63

Okay. The first thing you should know about St Joseph’s Church is that it isn’t there anymore. It burned down just before first Mass on September 4, 1983, due to a glitch in the subfloor wiring. No one was injured, and the adjacent rectory with its twenty-one Franciscan priests wasn’t damaged.

The roof collapsed, but the brick walls and the two five-story bell towers remained standing. Also, some things inside were spared, like the lead in the stained windows, a couple of statues and pictures, confessional doors, a few pews, and the antique vestments.

The Cultural Heritage Board tried to convince the archdiocese into at least incorporating the remaining steeples and walls into the planned replacement church, but, in mid-October, the city approved a demolition permit saying what was left of the old church was a safety hazard to the public.

(Site of) St Joseph's Church
The site, and current St Joseph's Church, today

Believe me, I don’t expect you to read this, but the following is a Los Angeles Times article from March 12, 1903, preceeding the church's original dedication. While every reference I could find gives the 1901 date for St Joseph's, that's actually the year for ground-breaking, while 1903 is the year the church was completed.



Church Dignitaries from South and West Will Be Present—Rich Interior Furnishings—Wonderful Fresco Work and Art Work from Europe.

Behind the closed and barred oak doors of the new St. Joseph’s Church, at the corner of Twelfth and Los Angeles streets, a great transformation scene is in progress.

The vast interiors of the great church is a labyrinth of trestles and scaffolding, reaching clear to the crown of the ceiling, sixty-two feet from the main floor. But peeping through the interstices and lattices of the heavy timbers, one may discover a wondrous work of gilt, and the deep tones of reds, greens, blues and yellows assembled with an artist’s touch into a magnificent whole.

This extensive fresco work, said to be the finest on the Coast, is being wrought out by Prof. William Kloer and his corps of assistants, who came from St. Louis, Mo., for this purpose. Prof. Kloer has spent years in this line of work, and has been in charge of the decoration of some of the finest Catholic buildings in the United States.

For almost three months these men have toiled on the extensive work at St. Joseph’s sometimes far into the night, and they count on a full three weeks of hard work yet before the frescoing will be completed. While the walls have been receiving most of the work, there are yet to be painted several scenes on canvas, which will adorn the great arches in the center of the ceiling. Two large medallions, eleven feet in circumference, will have the center spaces, on being a scene of St. Joseph blessing Pope Pius IX, and the other St. Francis receiving the indulgence.


When all the appointments of the new St. Joseph’s Church are in place it is said there will be no finer church edifice on the Pacific Coast. The whole building is to cost $100,000, and aside from this the furnishings make no small item.

Seven beautiful altars will be placed in the new building. These have been made in Munich, and are now in New York. They are of white walnut, and finished in white and gold. The main altar, of pure Gothic design, is forty-seven feet high, and the side altars are thirty and twenty-eight feet high.

The communion rail is also to be of polished walnut, with marble top; and the pews will be of white oak. They will seat 100 people.

Most of the large windows are memorials, and they are to be of the richest colors in cathedral glass. These alone will cost about $6000. The stations of the cross are in bas-relief and set in alcoves in the walls. These are also products of Munich artists.


Probably few people who have gazed on the two prominent spires of St. Joseph’s Church, which are landmarks all over the southeast section of the city, have realized the immensity of the new building. The main body of the church is 150x66 feet, and the transept is ninety-six feet wide. Back of this are the sacristy and rooms for altar boys, etc. The building has a large basement, fitted up for a hall, Sunday-school rooms, etc. Attached to the church on the east is the house of the Franciscan Fathers, which they now occupy. The plans for the whole where prepared by members of the Franciscan order, Brothers Adrian and Leonard, and the construction has been under the general supervision of Rev. Father Victor, O.F.M.

The new building is to stand as a monument to the Franciscans. Its corner-stone was laid by Bishop Montgomery June 16, 1901, and work has progressed continuously since that time.


The dedication of the new church will occur May 3, on the Feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the church. It will doubtless be one of the notable events in local Catholic history.

Exclusively for the purpose of officiating at this dedication, the Most Rev. D. Falconia, apostolic delegate to the United States, will come from Washington, D.C., accompanied by the auditor of the delegation and other church dignitaries.

The apostolic delegate is himself a Franciscan, and it is especially fitting that he perform the dedicatory service here. Others who will assist in the service are Most Rev. Archbishop Montgomery, Rt. Rev. Bishop Grace of Sacramento, Rt. Rev. Bishop Peter Verdeguer of Brownsville, Tex., and delegates from most of the nine Franciscan houses in the West.
B&W photo source: Los Angeles Department of City Planning

Up next: St Vibiana’s Cathedral


gc said...

The "before" and "after" just makes me sad. The original version with its gothic steeple and stained glass had to be breath-taking. The new version left me a tad underwhelmed, you know?

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your post on this. My parents got married in the original church and ever since I saw a wedding picture of the inside with them at the altar I knew I wanted to get married there too someday. Now that I've seen what they've done to the church those dreams are over.

Los Angeles Lofts said...

wow. this is a gorgeous church. it looks like it belongs somewhere in new york or Europe. i didnt even know la had places like this

Anonymous said...

This Church looks amazingly similar to Martyrs' Shrine in Midland ontario Canada- dedicated to the North American Jesuit Martyrs. The facade of the two are identical. It too was dedicated to St. Joseph, since the Martyrs were not yet canonized in 1926, when it was mostly completed.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Gina. I attended St. Joseph's Church and school in the 50's. I am now 65. I still remember an Easter Sunday morning, where I had to go outside to escape the scents of perfume from all the flowers etc. I still remember Father Oliver, Brother Adrian and some of the nuns. I felt very nostalgic when I viewed the 'before' picture and deflated when I saw the 'after' picture. Carmen C.

Frank X. Acevedo said...

My name is Frank X. Acevedo and I attended St. Joseph School from 1952 to 1957. I was also an altar boy. I wish I had pictures of the old Church and the school. I was the design engineer of the L.A. Dept. of Water & Power for the new "church". If anyone has pictures of the old Church and school, please email me at

Anonymous said...

My wife and I were married in the old church on June 20, 1964. We just celebrated our 51 st anniversary. The church was so beautiful and the beauty gave the feeling of holiness and spiritual. I almost cried after the beautiful ceremony and mass as we walked down the aisle leaving the church. We were so very happy and proud. I wasn't aware that the church had burned down. What a sad loss. Al Burkhardt

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting this memorable photo! I remember my dad driving us from Pico Rivera to this church on Sunday. It was easy to be a quiet child in this church because it was magnificent and you felt embraced by it - the Latin masses, the singing, the colorful huge stained glass windows surrounding the interior, the pulpit, the beautiful pews. I could hardly wait for my first communion to receive it at the beautiful marble front. I was told that I was baptized at this church shortly after my birth in 1954 and loved coming her with my family. I went to find the church about 10 years ago and was totally saddened by what I saw. Your article helps me understand why it is no longer in Los Angeles. Sad to hear that the remaining structures were razed. Thank you again

Frank Acevedo said...

The Martyr's Shrine in Midland, Ontario looks nothing like Saint Joseph Church that burned down in Los Angeles, California. Check it out for yourself on Google maps.