Cathedrals of California, A Virtual Pilgrimage

Cathedral Center of St. Paul I: History

The Cathedral Center of St. Paul in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles stands as witness to much of the development of non-Roman Catholic Christianity in Southern California.

Its first predecessor congregation was St. Athanasius’ Episcopal Church, founded downtown in 1865 on the present site of City Hall. It was the first non-Catholic church in the city, and its members had been gathering for Anglican worship services since 1857 in the local Wells Fargo office. The congregation changed its name to St. Paul’s in 1881 and they built a new church at the foot of Bunker Hill where the Biltmore Hotel now stands. When the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles was organized in 1895, that church became the diocesan pro-cathedral.

First St. Paul’s Pro-cathedral at the current site of the Biltmore Hotel

In 1924, Bishop J. H. Johnson dedicated the new St. Paul’s Cathedral at 615 S. Figueroa St. at Wilshire Boulevard downtown, designed by architects Johnson, Kaufman and Coate. Partner Reginald Johnson was the son of Bishop Johnson, but his appointment was not about nepotism; he is recognized as a leading innovator in regional California architecture, and Paul Williams once worked under him. Johnson also designed All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena (1923), St. Alban’s Episcopal Church (1931) in the Westwood district of Los Angeles and the Post Office (1937) and Biltmore Hotel (1927) in Santa Barbara as well as many lavish private homes throughout the state. His partner Gordon Kaufmann designed the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times (1931) and the Athenaeum at Cal Tech (1931).

The architecture of the church was Romanesque, and its stained-glass windows depicted events of prominent bishops throughout history, beginning with St. Alban and ending with Bishop Johnson himself laying the cathedral cornerstone. The church drew the praise of the American Institute of Architects the following year as the best building constructed in Los Angeles during 1924.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral on Wilshire Boulevard

Exterior of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral at Wilshire and Figueroa

St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral on Wilshire Boulevard

Another view of the exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral

In 1958, St. Paul’s was granted the status of a full cathedral. Previously it had been a parish church serving the diocese as a pro-cathedral, but its operation and organization would now be the responsibility of the diocese. In 1962, the church was renovated; the apse was covered with a mosaic designed by the Judson Studios, the organ was improved, a new antiphonal organ installed and new windows — also by the Judson Studios — were installed.

Just five years after the 1965 celebration of the cathedral’s centennial, the 75th annual Diocesan Convention voted to lease the cathedral property to downtown developers, who would demolish the church. Bishop Francis Eric Bloy proposed that a new chapel to serve the existing congregation could be built near Good Samaritan Hospital, which would also accommodate the diocesan offices, then at 1220 W. Fourth St. Bishop Bloy also proposed that large diocesan liturgical celebrations could be held at St. John’s in West Adams or St. James’ in Mid-Wilshire. A short-lived campaign by a group called the Citizens Committee to Save St. Paul’s ultimately failed. The property was sold and the cathedral was demolished in 1979.

Demolition of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Demolition of St. Paul’s Cathedral

The diocese remained without a cathedral until the dedication of the Cathedral Center of St. Paul by Bishop Frederick H. Borsch in 1994 on the Echo Park site where the original congregation of St. Athansius had moved after splitting from St. Paul’s, thus reuniting the two congregations. The complex includes a small church with the historic cathedra from the old cathedral, a retreat center, administrative offices and community services.

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One Response to “Cathedral Center of St. Paul I: History”

  1. M.J. Ernst-Sandoval Says:

    Many thanks for this post. Growing up in Los Angeles County, I always wondered why the Protestant Episcopal Diocese never had a proper cathedral church. I suppose that with St. John’s being designated the pro-cathedral that they propose to eventually build a new one?

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