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Downtown's Churches: St. Paul's Episcopal

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, July 08, 2008, at 12:55PM
St. Paul's Episcopal California Historical Society: TICOR/Pierce [digarc.usc.edu]

St. Paul's Cathedral stood at 615 S. Figueroa from 1924 to 1980.

The story of St. Paul's Episcopal Church might well be best summed up as that of a city moving outward. Opened on July 13th, 1924, St. Paul's Cathedral stood on the outskirts of Downtown -- at 6th and Figueroa. The site was the church's third, and each time the city had grown up around it. As with many Downtown churches, that continued move outward would also be its undoing.

The site was the third for the church, which began life in 1865 as St. Athanasius Episcopal Church and for decades stood across the street from Pershing Square but moved to make way for the Biltmore Hotel.

Back in 1864, when St. Athanasius Episcopal Church opened in a one-room building on the site that is now City Hall, is was surrounded by vegetable fields. The city soon bustled around that location, though, and the church moved outward. In 1883, it relocated to Olive street, between 5th and 6th, across the street from the city's Central Park (later Pershing Square).

The congregation boomed, and changed its name to St. Paul's. Voices were calling for a new building -- a true cathedral -- as early as 1910. In 1913, the church announced its intention to build just such a edifice on the existing site, with full plans drawn up the following year. No action took place, but in May of 1917 a new announcement was made.

Finally, in 1920, final plans for the new building were completed, after a long period mulling the decision of whether to sell the now-valuable land and build elsewhere. A funding drive kicked off in February of 1921.

Just three months later it was announced that the church instead would be selling its property, making way for the construction of the Biltmore Hotel. The purchase papers were completed in November of that year, with the church receiving $470,000. The last service at the Olive street site was held on February 12th, 1922.

Groundbreaking at the church's third Downtown site, at 615 S. Figueroa, was held on January 11th, 1923. The Romanesque structure would seat 1,200, and was dedicated on July 13th, 1924.

As time went on, the population of the city continued to move outward. Like many downtown churches around the country, attendance suffered and the church struggled to break even. In 1958 the church, until then technically a "pro-cathedral," was given full cathedral status by the denomination. The move meant that the site was now supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, rather than by the local parish.

Despite being given historic-cultural landmark status, the historic church still met its end. With attendance down to roughly 100, in November of 1979 the site was sold to a Japanese real estate company for $4 million. A wrecking crew started its work in March of the following year.

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