In 1913, merely a decade after the completion of its church at Sixth and Hill Streets, the First Methodist Church purchased a plot at the southwest corner of Eighth and Hope Streets, then occupied by the Abbotsford Inn. Faced with the rapid development of its surrounding neighborhood and an ever-expanding membership, the church announced the imminent construction of a $300,000 building at Downtown’s southwestern edge, to be designed by architect John C. Austin.
It would be another ten years however, before the congregation could worship on Hope Street. The sale of its existing building was put on hold at the outbreak of the First World War, and changes to its expansion needs led to several redesigns by Austin’s firm. Groundbreaking did not take place until 1921, by which point its construction costs had ballooned to $1,500,000. Nonetheless, the Methodists had reason to be proud. At the time of its dedication in 1923, the steel-framed edifice housed 45,000 square feet of floor space, with a 3000-seat auditorium, 32 classrooms, a social hall, and a gymnasium. With its Spanish Renaissance Revival facade, glass panels by Louis Tiffany, and an imposing bell tower rising from the intersection’s corner, the First Methodist Church was arguably Los Angeles’ most impressive religious building yet.
Sadly, like many of its Downtown neighbors, the First Methodist Church eventually became unable to maintain its majestic lodgings due to the shrinking size of its congregation. After membership plummeted from 6,000 to 400 during the 1970s, the congregation’s leaders decided in 1982 to sell the property at $9 million to the Southern California Gas Company, headquartered next door at Eighth and Flower Streets. Although the corporation had no imminent plans to redevelop the site, their offer was contingent on the existing building’s demolition.
In an effort to change the course of events, a lone congregation member named Barbara Dumas filed a landmark status application to the city, quickly gaining the support of the Community Redevelopment Agency and the Los Angeles Conservancy. While its approval would not have ended the demolition plans, they would have been substantially delayed, allowing some time for public debate and the development of alternative proposals. Nonetheless, after unanimous approval by the Cultural Heritage Board, landmark status was rejected by City Council by a vote of 10 to 2, citing the absence of a viable plan to finance the building’s preservation.
Despite continued protests led by the conservancy (pictured above) and the Community Redevelopment Agency’s attempts at negotiation, the historic church was demolished in the spring of 1983. As evident in the contemporary photograph, the Gas Company never redeveloped the land. They opted several years later to build their new headquarters at Fifth Street and Grand Avenue, partially on the ruins of yet another destroyed church.
A horizontally aligned comparison can be viewed here.
1. “Council rejects bid to save L.A. church.” Los Angeles Times. 20 Dec. 1982. OC_A4.
2. “Finest church here planned.” Los Angeles Times. 1 Nov. 1913. I10.
3. “First methodists buy a new church site.” Los Angeles Times. 23 Aug. 1913. II1.
4. “For new church homes.” Los Angeles Times. 12 Apr. 1920. II1.
5. “Give complete plans of super-church building.” Los Angeles Times. 23 Jun. 1921. II1.
6. Kaplan, Sam Hall. “A downtown church threatened.” Los Angeles Times. 27 Oct. 1982. G1.
7. Kaplan, Sam Hall. “As the dust settles on Hope Street.” Los Angeles Times. 11 Mar. 1983. I1.
8. “Methodists to dedicate.” Los Angeles Times. 7 Jul. 1923. II2.
Original photo: Ruebsamen, James. “Protest over church closing.” 1983. Herald-Examiner Collection. Los Angeles Public Library. http://photos.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/FullRecord?databaseID=968&record=1&controlNumber=5030342.