Saturday, April 18, 2009

No. 229 - Westminster Presbyterian Church Building

Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Presbyterian Church Building
1931 – Quentin Scott
2230 West Jefferson Boulevard – map
Declared: 6/11/80

Historic-Cultural Monument No. 229 is a Romanesque church building that has served as headquarters for two Presbyterian congregations during its seventy-eight year history – St Paul’s and Westminster.

Westminster Presbyterian Church

At the end of 1930, Southwest Builder and Contractor announced Alhambra architect Scott Quentin – well, the magazine spelled his name Quintin – had completed preliminary plans for a new building for St Paul’s Presbyterian Church at Jefferson and 3rd. The new church would run $60,000, the magazine went on, and would contain a “basement, banquet room, social hall, auditorium to seat 600 people and Sunday School rooms to accommodate 800 pupils. Dimensions 86 x 124 feet, frame and stucco construction, tile and composition roofing, cement and ample floors, art glass, gas steam heating, etc.” The church’s pastor in 1930 was the Reverend Gustav A. Briegleb, who had been leading St Paul’s since leaving Westlake Presbyterian Church in October 1926. He succeeded Dr William G. Mills at St Paul’s.

Constructed by the Myers Brothers Company, the four-story building would replace a two-story, $35,000 church building put up just seven-and-a-half years earlier. That structure, designed by H.H. Whitely, was an addition to an older building, circa 1915 (the congregation was founded in May 1910). Whitely’s building seated about 600 worshippers, a little more than 100 larger than the congregation’s size during its March 18, 1923, dedication.

Westminster Presbyterian Church

In January 1931, the Los Angeles Times reported demolition of the old church buildings would begin on the 12th and that the congregation would hold services at the Home Theater on Jefferson west of Arlington till the new structure was complete. The article also quoted Rev. Briegleb’s saying St Paul’s had just received a $40,000 loan from the Bank of America along with a gift of a diamond ring – valued at $3,554 – from “well-known politician Charles Crawford”. It turns out Crawford would give more than jewelry to finance the new church building.

Charles H. Crawford was a Los Angeles saloon-keeper-turned-crime-boss who surprised many folks with his conversion to the faith as a new member of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church in 1930. It was during his baptism that June when he donated the pricey ring, telling Rev. Briegleb to sell it and put the proceeds to the construction of a new Sunday School for the parish. At the time, Crawford was under indictments of bribery charges (those charges were later dismissed, as were charges of extortion and conspiracy in other cases). Briegleb’s acceptance of Crawford into the fold along with the racketeer’s gift was controversial, of course. The Reverend R.P. Shuler, a former pal of Briegleb, broadcasted he would “just as soon baptize a skunk as to receive Crawford.” Shuler also maintained it was Crawford’s money that was financing Briegleb’s radio sermons in which he endorsed some of Charles H.’s pals for political office, a charge which the reverend later copped to. (In fact, Crawford’s unrealized plans to finance a permanent radio station in St Paul’s were revealed after his death.)

Westminster Presbyterian Church

Five months later after his baptism, Crawford donated a full $25,000 to St Paul’s for a new church building. When detractors criticized Briegleb’s receiving a donation from the “sinister influence”, the pastor replied, “If you know of any more sinners who have $25,000, send ‘em along: I can use it.”

Rev. Briegleb and his 700-member congregation dedicated the new St Paul’s Presbyterian Church building on May 17, 1931, with a sermon entitled, “Should We Build New Churches When Multitudes Are Hungry?” Of special note was the structure’s twelve-foot revolving lighted cross perched atop its tower. The church’s new parish house was named the Amelia Crawford Memorial, in honor of benefactor Charles H.’s mom.

Westminster Presbyterian Church

Crawford didn’t attend the new church building for long, though. Four days after St Paul’s dedication, former deputy district attorney David H. Clark entered Crawford’s office at 6665 Sunset Boulevard and shot to death the politico (good thing he got in his baptism) and newspaper man Herbert Spencer. While Clark was acquitted of Spencer’s murder after pleading self-defense (prosecutors dropped the case of Crawford’s death), he eventually went to prison for the November 1953 shotgun slaying of the wife of his best friend and former law partner in Costa Mesa (seems she was bugging him to get a job). By the way, Clark, during the Spencer murder trial, was still running for municipal judge. He received 60,000 votes while in prison, proving some folks weren’t too broken up to see Crawford bite it.

In 1949, following its merger with Baldwin Hills Community Church, St Paul’s Presbyterian left its home on Jefferson and 3rd for a new building designed by Robert E. Alexander at Coliseum Street and La Brea Avenue. The Westminster Presbyterian Church took over the future landmark, moving a few blocks from their headquarters at 35th Place and Denker Avenue on land they had bought back in 1906.

Westminster Presbyterian Church

The Westminster Presbyterian Church got its official start in Los Angeles on October 9, 1904, when seventeen worshippers who had been holding services in the Central Presbyterian Church were “received by confession of faith and examination.” Twelve days later, the church was officially reported to and enrolled in the L.A. Presbytery.

Westminster Presbyterian Church

When it dedicated its church building – built the previous summer – in March 1908, Westminster Presbyterian was the sole all-black Presbyterian congregation in the west. It’s minister in charge, the Reverend E.P. Baker, was also the west’s only African-American minister. The Reverend Robert W. Holman became the congregation’s first official pastor later that year. In 1912, Rev. Hampton B. Hawes succeeded him, retiring after nearly half a century of service in 1958. Subsequent Westminster pastors included Reverends James E. Jones, Oliver L. Brown, and Glenn Jones. The current pastor is the Reverend Virginia Brown.

Westminster Presbyterian Church


“Colored People Finance Well.” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 9, 1908, p. I5

“To Build Church.” The Los Angeles Times; Oct 2, 1921, p. V2

“To Worship in New Homes” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 17, 1923, p. II2

“Dr. Briegleb at New Post”; The Los Angeles Times; Oct 2, 1926, p. A2

“Charles Crawford Joins Church of Dr. Briegleb” The Los Angeles Times; Jul 1, 1930, p. A1

“Crawford’s Latest Gift Announced” The Los Angeles Times; Nov 3, 1930, p. A1

Southwest Builder and Contractor; Dec 5, 1930, p. 49

“Briegleb Congregation to Build” The Los Angeles Times; Jan 5, 1931, p. A9

“Schuler Scored by Dr. Briegleb” The Los Angeles Times; Jan 20, 1931, p. A1

“Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord” The Los Angeles Times; May 16, 1931, p. A8

“Briegleb’s New Church Dedicated” The Los Angeles Times; May 18, 1931, p. A1

“Crawford and Writer Victims of Assassin” The Los Angeles; May 21, 1931, p. 1

“Victims of Assassins’ Bullets” The Los Angeles Times; May 21, 1931, p. 2

“Crawford Likened to Matthew” The Los Angeles Times; May 25, 1931, p. 2

“Books of Murder Victims Examined” The Los Angeles Times; May 27, 1931, p. 2

“Presbytery Officials to Dedicate Building” The Los Angeles Times; Oct 1, 1949, p. A3

“Ex-L.A. Attorney Held in Slaying” The Los Angeles Times; Nov 12, 1953, p. 1

Up next: Villa Maria


Steven said...

Wow. Church histories don't get much more colorful than that.

MG said...

It amazes me that all of this could be somehow gleaned from reading old L.A. Times newspapers.

It is a play, Mr. B. Well, my lan, --an OG diamond ring that probably came from an angry mol abandoned in some West Adams bungalow.

Anonymous said...

What is it with bad guys and their love of mom? I wonder if Reverend R.P. Shuler is the same fellow portrayed by John Malkovich in the Changeling. What a great story behind this church.

Unknown said...

Actually John Malkovich portrayed Rev. Gustav Briegleb in the movie Changeling.