Cathedrals of California, A Virtual Pilgrimage

Cathedral Center of St. Paul I: History

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

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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St. John’s Named Cathedral for Episcopal Diocese

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Although we’ve already been referring to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles as the new pro-cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles (due to a tip we received), the designation was made official on October 7 by Bishop Jon Bruno at the annual clergy conference. A service to inaugurate the new role for St. John’s will take place on February 2, 2008.

While technically a pro-cathedral, St. John’s will be called “St. John’s Cathedral” to avoid confusion. It will share status as the mother church of the Episcopal diocese with the Cathedral Center of St. Paul in Echo Park. According to the Very Rev. Canon Mark Kowalewski, dean of St. John’s, the new pro-cathedral will serve the liturgical functions of a cathedral.

This status of a pro-cathedral bearing the title of “cathedral” is nothing new for the Episcopal diocese here; the old St. Paul’s Cathedral downtown (demolished in 1979) was also technically a pro-cathedral for most of its existence. The new role for St. John’s was a long time coming, as talks on taking this move were afoot as early as the 1980s. According to Fr. Kowalewski, even as early as the 1920s the first rector of St. John’s had aspired to have the impressive new church named the diocesan cathedral.

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Which Was the First Episcopal Cathedral?

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

The question of what was the first Episcopal cathedral in the United States is somewhat complex, as it reflects an evolution in the ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church that is central to the very concept of a cathedral.

James Lloyd Breck (1818-1876) was an Episcopal priest, educator and missionary to the Native Americans who became a prominent advocate for the establishment of cathedrals for the Episcopal Church.

Although the first Anglican bishop in the United States, Samuel Seabury, had been ordained a bishop in 1784, the authority of the bishop in the Episcopal Church was not what it is today. As Breck explained in 1867, “After long years of waiting on Heaven-commissioned men, who ought to have acted for us with alacrity, we at length obtained the Episcopate for America! But the condition of things here had been so long that of a Presbyter-Church, it was not an easy matter to put the Bishop in his right place. He had been imported for only two things, Ordination and Confirmation! He had no cure in a Diocese beyond these, except he went down to the rank of a Priest, in which case he could become the Rector of a Parish.”

Breck was heavily influenced by the Oxford Movement, which advocated a return to more ancient practices in the Anglican Communion. Key to the restoration of the role of bishop in the Episcopal Church, according to Breck, was the establishment of cathedrals, an idea avoided in the formative years of the new American church. Early Episcopal bishops who dared to wear a mitre, set up a cathedra or speak of cathedrals often faced stiff opposition from clergy and laity.

Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior, Faribault, Minn.

Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior, Faribault, Minn.

In 1862, as founder of Nashotah House in Minnesota, Breck worked with the bishop of Minnesota, Henry Whipple, to organize what is often said to be the first Episcopal cathedral, in Faribault, Minn. The Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior, a gothic church designed by James Renwick, was dedicated in 1869. Thus, while the Episcopal Church was an established presence in the East, the frontier became the place where tradition was re-established.

The Faribault cathedral is not without rival claimants to being the first Episcopal cathedral. Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Chicago, 1862; destroyed by fire in 1921) St. Paul’s Cathedral (Buffalo, 1866) and All Saints Cathedral (Milwaukee, 1873) all lay claim to this title. The Cathedral of All Saints (Albany, 1888) claims to be the first “Episcopal Cathedral in America built on the English and Continental model of bishop’s church, school and hospital.”

Perhaps because of differences in how these early Episcopal cathedrals were organized (many appear to be parish churches acting as pro-cathedrals), there is the further distinction of which is the first “full cathedral.” The Cathedral of St. John the Divine (New York, founded 1873; dedicated 1941) and the Cathedral Church of Ss. Peter and Paul (Washington National Cathedral, founded 1893; dedicated 1976) appear to be the first to have this distinction, for when St. Paul’s Cathedral in Los Angeles was granted this status in 1957, reports indicated that St. Paul’s would thus join the ranks of these two “full cathedrals.”

The question of what constitutes the first Episcopal cathedral in the United States appears to be open to debate, and no doubt some of our more learned Episcopal brothers and sisters can further enlighten us in the comments section. But one thing is clear: the influence of the Oxford Movement and the devoted missionary James Breck have left their mark. Something to think about each April 2, when the Episcopal Church commemorates James Breck on its liturgical calendar.

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St. John’s Pro-cathedral III: History

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Founded in 1890 as a mission and made a parish the following year, St. John’s Episcopal Church has always been located at the corner of Adams and Figueroa. At the time, West Adams was the most desirable area of the city, dense with grand mansions.

In 1913, Rev. George Davidson became rector of the parish, and led a period of growth that overwhelmed the small church building. In 1919 it was announced that a new church would be constructed on the site. The initial announcement in the Los Angeles Times showed a sketch by local architects Montgomery and Montgomery of an English Gothic structure.

Original Sketch of a Gothic Design for St. John’s Church

Montgomery and Montgomery sketch of proposed Gothic church for St. John’s

The building committee of the parish decided against the Montgomery & Montgomery plan, and in 1920 hired the prominent New York architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, who would go on to design the Los Angeles Central Library downtown (1924) and the Nebraska state capitol (1924). Perhaps the parishioners of St. John’s turned to Goodhue because of his striking success with the Byzantine-Romanesque style of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church (1913) on Park Avenue in New York. Goodhue and his partner Ralph Adams Cram were reigning American proponents of Gothic Revivalism, exemplified by St. Thomas Episcopal Church (1906) on Fifth Avenue in New York, but Goodhue had recently been exploring other styles.

Eventually, however, in a competition the parish selected the local architects Walter and F. Pierpont Davis, who were largely responsible for developing the distinctive Los Angeles architectural genre of courtyard apartments; many of the finest existing examples of this residential style are the work of Davis and Davis, such as the famous Villa d’Este Apartments in West Hollywood. The Davis brothers believed that Mediterranean architecture was best suited to Los Angeles, and accordingly they designed an impressive Italian Romanesque structure for the congregation. Ground was broken in 1923 and the new church was dedicated in 1924.

In a 1925 New Year’s Day feature, the Los Angeles Times proudly reported that 62 new churches were built in the city during 1924 — among them St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral downtown — adding to the previous total of 412 churches in the city. The church building boom of the Roaring ’20s would continue to result in magnificent landmark houses of worship in Los Angeles, many of them along Wilshire Boulevard, until the Crash of 1929 put an abrupt end to the fevered construction of grand religious monuments in the city.

We sometimes forget the importance of libraries. So I should mention that I researched this post in the Los Angeles Times archive at the very Central Libary designed by Goodhue. Go there sometime!

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