Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No. 90 - St Vincent de Paul Church

St Vincent de Paul Church

St Vincent de Paul Church
1923 – Albert C. Martin
621 West Adams Boulevard – map
Declared: 7/21/71

St Vincent de Paul Church at the corner of Figueroa and West Adams received formal dedication on April 12, Easter Sunday, in 1925. Father Martin G. Hanley preached the sermon. That’s according to a contemporary L.A. Times account. Don Sloper, in Los Angeles’s Chester Place, says the first mass was held the Sunday before, with the Rt Rev. John J. Cantwell, bishop of the Diocese of Monterey and Los Angeles, presiding. So let’s say the church opened during the first half of April, 1925.

St Vincent de Paul Church

It was back in September, 1922, though, when Father J.H. MacRoberts, St Vincent’s pastor, announced gazillionaire Edward Doheny had pledged a quarter of a million dollars to the building of which at that time was planned to be a $500,000 church (it was later pegged at one million). “A large part of the other portion has been pledged as well.” The church had already owned the land for a couple of years. The Automobile Club of Southern California was at that time under construction across the street and the gated community of Chester Place and Doheny’s own mansion sat (and still sits) a couple yards to the west.

St Vincent de Paul Church

St Vincent de Paul Church and Rectory

The congregation – the city’s third Roman Catholic parish – had been meeting in an 1887 church building on the campus of the former St Vincent’s College at the corner of Washington Street (Boulevard) and Grand Avenue. (St Vincent’s College penultimately became Loyola College, and ultimately, in 1973, Loyola Marymount University.)

St Vincent de Paul Church - Rectory
The Rectory

Bishop Cantwell and Rev. MacRoberts approved design sketches by Albert C. Martin in December, 1922.

Martin had designed L.A.’s first major Churrigueresque-style building, the Million Dollar Theater on South Broadway, in 1918. Martin was also part of the teams that designed Los Angeles landmarks City Hall (No. 150) and the May Company on Wilshire (No. 566).

St Vincent de Paul Church

St Vincent de Paul Church
St Vincent Parochial School / dog

St Vincent de Paul Church

For St Vincent’s, the architect was inspired by Bertram G. Goodhue’s California Building from the 1915 San Diego Exposition (it’s still there today, but now known as the Museum of Man in Balboa Park) as well as the Santa Prisca, a historic church in Tasco, Mexico.

St Vincent de Paul Church

Crews broke ground in 1923, while the majority of construction occurred throughout 1924. And, man, what a busy year for L.A. churches it was, too. According to a Los Angeles Times article from New Year’s Day, 1925, the city saw construction of 62 new churches that year. The new houses of the holy, at a cost of nearly $7.3 million, brought L.A.’s church tally to 412.

St Vincent de Paul Church

The Churrigueresque church is in the shape of a cross and sits at a 45-degree angle to the intersection, better providing diners at the Popeyes across Figueroa unobstructed views of the eighty-plus-year-old church.

While Ralph Adams Cram designed the interior, the interior ceiling decoration is by John B. Smeraldi. Just around that time, Smeraldi was also working on the ceilings at the Biltmore Hotel downtown. Busy guy.

St Vincent de Paul Church
The reredos

St Vincent de Paul Church

The Wurster Construction Company’s E.M. Lukens reported the strength of that 44-foot concrete dome was tested by hanging sand bags from “the entire circumference of the dome to the weight of thirty pounds per square foot and an additional thirty pounds per square foot over one-half the circumference.” After two days, an additional ten tons was suspended from the center with no deflection noted.

The underside of the dome features eight paintings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and their symbols: man; lion; ox; and eagle. (Sorry, no picture.)

St Vincent de Paul Church

St Vincent de Paul Church

You’ll also notice inside the church the reredos with ten saints and, again, the Four Evangelists. Then note the statue of St Edward to the left of the saints (he’s to the right of the statue of St Peter). See how not only does he show a resemblance to patron Edward Doheny, but he’s also holding a miniature model of the church. (Again, sadly, no picture.)

St Vincent de Paul Church has a seating capacity of 1,200.

St Vincent de Paul Church

Finally, since you’ve made it this far and have been so patient, St Vincent de Paul was a 17th-century French priest. Pope Clement XII beatified him in 1737, the patron of charitable societies.

St Vincent de Paul Church


“Huge Sum Given for Building” Los Angeles Times; Sep 24, 1922, p. I5

“Sketches of New Church Approved” Los Angeles Times; Dec 10, 1922, p. V1

“Unusual Design in Church Plan” Los Angeles Times; Oct 12, 1924, p. E3

“Sixty-Two New Churches in 1924” Los Angeles Times; Jan 1, 1925, p. H10

“Easter Service Dedicates New Catholic Church” Los Angeles Times; Apr 13, 1925, p. A8

Don Sloper, Los Angeles’s Chester Place (Charleston SC, Chicago IL, Portsmouth NH, San Francisco CA: Arcadia Publishing, 2006)

Up next: The Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian Church


Anonymous said...

The Rt. Rev. John J. Cantwell, Bishop of Los Angeles and San Diego, left Los Angeles at the end of February 1925 for a 6 month visit to Europe and the Holy Land because the Pope had declared 1925 anno santa or Holy Year. There are many newspper articles of the time giving many reports of the trip and no mention of St. Vincent. Don Sloper must be mistaken!

Anonymous said...

John Jones is correct. Parish publications state the first “solemn dedication was on April 5, 1925”. A week later, on Easter Sunday, April 12, a more publicized “dedication” mass was reported by The Los Angeles Times. The Consecration of St. Vincent's, which according to the Catholic Enclopedia ". . . is also called its dedication", was conducted by Bishop Cantwell on October 23, 1930.

Anonymous said...

Hi There - Thanks so much for this beautiful post. I am wondering how to get in touch with this magnificent church. I can't find any info online to contact them. I very much appreciate your help.


Patrick Tierney said...

My father John "Jack" Tierney was an alter boy at St. Vincent de Paul's in the Thirties, and shared with me that after the last mass on Sunday he would accompany the Priest to the nearby Doheny family home where they would conduct a private mass for the family at their home alter on the second floor. Recently, while visiting the site, I was invited to tour the home by a passing Nun who I told my story to. She could only show me the first floor as the second floor is a Convent.
Coincidentally, my Grandfather and Father's combined work life at the Auto Club (another great building) across the street in the claims adjusting department spanned from the Twenties to the Seventies. The Tierney name is still remembered fondly by many who worked there and it is typically associated with exceptional humor, kindness, and honesty.
Patrick Tierney