Taking a critical look at public space in Los Angeles

Architecture as Public Art: Religious Architecture

Hey there! Welcome to part one of a series I’ll be working on. We’ll be looking at architecture as public art, easily accessible from the most functional and ubiquitous form of public space: the sidewalk. Unfortunately, here in Los Angeles, we don’t get a chance to appreciate this art form from our cars. This first part in the series is pretty specific, I’ll be focusing on the architecture found in places of worship. I’ve always been fascinated by this architecture. The presence it has on the street is an indescribable attraction.  In short, these building really stand out and communicate to the public. It also gives us a glimpse of how Los Angeles has changed and evolved. Historically, these churches provided services to a demographic probably no longer seen as much in the city now. Times have changed. This part also reflects the continuous linear decentralization of Los Angeles along Wilshire Blvd.


So what did I do? Of course it would be impossible for me to detail all the beautiful churches in the Los Angeles area, so I broke it down into sections. This first part are buildings found on or around Wilshire Blvd. from Downtown to about Western Ave. in Koreatown.

If you’re feeling adventurous, here is the route I took. Go in person or streetview it on Google.

So as you can see, I started from Downtown and pretty much followed Wilshire Blvd. veering off only a couple blocks max for some of the buildings. Most of them were open when I went and were equally beautiful inside. I suggest that you take a trip and check some these out for yourself.

And remember, church buildings played an important role in the developing young city.


San Fernando Mission. Built in the 1790s in what is now the San Fernando Valley.


La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de Los Angeles. Anchored the plaza/center of Los Angeles since her beginning. Looks like a church has occupied this site since the 1810s. This current church building was built in the 1860s.

1. Third Church of Christ, Scientist 730 S. Hope St. 1936

While, this architecture doesn’t necessarily scream out church, it was in fact built for this church originally in 1936. Nothing spectacular, but handsome nonetheless. This small building seems a bit out of place tucked in between the high rises of Downtown.



2. Church of the Immaculate Conception, 1433 James M. Wood Blvd.

I was unable to find any information on this building. Definitely built sometime before the 1920s. There is an old picture of this church (pov is facing across the street unfortunately) from the 1940s. Nonetheless, this is a very simple but beautiful building. It doesn’t stand out much in this older quiet neighborhood. It has matured well.

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3. ???, ??? 1600 W. 7th St. 19XX?

This building isn’t a church, nor do I think it ever was. However, I’ve always been a fan of this block building in the Westlake area. The figures on the top intrigue me. I have no idea what they’re doing or what they represent. Currently, the bottom floor is home to a furniture store. It looks, like nothing original has been maintain on at least the first floor. Such a pretty building gone to waste. I hope they at least maintain it somewhat in a decent condition. This one is sure to shine in the future.

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3. First Congregational Church; 540 S. Commonwealth Ave. 1931

This is a very pretty church designed by Allison and Allison. This architectural firm seemed to be very active during this time and well known in the city. Actually, some of their notable works are found here in this list! Below you’ll find an old pic (circa 1936) of the church. This church probably makes my top 15 churches of LA but you’ll notice that the old picture doesn’t have the green fence now found around the church. I’ve always hated buildings that close themselves off to the street like this.

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Circa 1936. Image via LAPL

4. Church of the Precious Blood; 435 S. Occidental Blvd. 1926

I love this church’s name. This building actually sits right across from the First Congregational Church building. The old picture below is circa 1931. As you can see, it looks like if not much has changed. You’ll probably notice that most of these churches on the list are simple, yet stunning. This Italian Romanesque church is no different. It really attracts you to search for more details in the building’s design and facade.

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Circa 1931. Image via LAPL

5. Immanuel Presbyterian Church 3300 Wilshire Blvd; 1928

Most likely my 5th favorite church in Los Angeles. Definitely my favorite on this list. This Spanish Gothic influenced building is so prominent on Wilshire Blvd. You’ll notice that a lot of these church buildings seem to lack a punch in terms of color. They sort of drown in their monotonous cream/concrete color. It works with this building though, it seems so ominous and grave both in the day and night. The older pics at the bottom are from the 1930s. What’s great is that the 3 of the 4 corner buildings on these cross streets (Wilshire & Berendo) seem to still be here today and all still in great condition.


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Circa 1930s. Image via LAPL


Circa 1930s. Image via LAPL

6. First Baptist Church of Los Angeles; 760 S. Westmoreland Ave. 1927

Another one from Allison & Allison. The church’s smooth tower can been seen from Wilshire Blvd, calling you to go explore. This one makes me want to go up in the tower and pretend I was a king of the this vast kingdom called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles. The last picture is circa 1937, the church has been maintained pretty darn good.

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Circa 1936/7. Image via LAPL

Circa 1936/7. Image via LAPL

7. First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles; 2936 W. 8th St. 1927

Allison & Allison were on fire with the churces here. This simply elegant design is tucked away in a rather rougher neighborhood. Amazing to realize how much this neighborhood has changed in the almost 90 years since this building was finished. The last picture is circa 1935. I wish they would grow the ivy back on it.

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Circa 1935. Image via LAPL

Circa 1935. Image via LAPL

8. Wilshire Christian Church 3435 Wilshire Blvd. 1927 (perhaps even earlier; 1922?)

Wilshire Blvd. played a large role in stretching the city out of the center. You can see in the old photo at the bottom (circa 1930s), that Wilshire Blvd. was still largely underdeveloped at this point but these churches obviously reflect and indicated the future direction the city was to grow in/towards.

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Circa 1929. Image via LAPL

Circa 1929. Image via LAPL

9. Manna Methodist Church of Los Angeles; 433 S. Normandie Ave. 19XX

This is a strange looking building, at least for the area. Looks like Harry Potter would live here. I’m unsure of the date, but I do know that it use to be the 9th Church of Christ, Scientist. Again, I hate when buildings close themselves off from the street like this. The older pic at the bottom is from 1937.



Circa 1937. Image via LAPL

Circa 1937. Image via LAPL

10. Wilshire Blvd. Temple 3663 Wilshire Blvd. 1928

Smack in the middle of Koreatown is this beautiful temple. Currently undergoing some renovations, it should be reopening fairly soon. Domed tops aren’t too common in Los Angeles so this building is somewhat of an anomaly. At the bottom, I put an old picture of the B’nai B’rith Synagogue in Downtown Los Angeles sometime in 1926. Once this building was built, I guess the synagogue was demolished. What a shame. I’m pointing it out that Los Angeles has had a history of absolutely gorgeous and unique architecture only to be demolished



Circa 1930s. Image via LAPL

Circa 1930s. Image via LAPL

Guess what sits at the corner where this building use to be:

Image via LAPL

B’nai B’rith Synagogue in Downtown Los Angeles. The currrent temple was built to accomodate the growing population. Unfortunately, that meant that this building was demolished. Image via LAPL

11. Saint James Episcopal Church; 3903 Wilshire Blvd. 1926

So this is the terminus of my route. Again, we have a Gothic influenced church design in the area. This area of Koretown is architecturally significant with the Wiltern and the Wilshire Professional Building near by. Take a look at the old photos at the bottom. You’ll notice that the tower is a bit different. Looks like at some point they “capped” it. What a shame, the uncapped version was definitely much more alluring.




Circa 1930s. Image via LAPL


Notice the “uncapped” tower. Circa 1930s. Image via LAPL


Circa 1930s. Image via LAPL

So that’s it! This was only a small section of Los Angeles. It took longer than expected but I’ll have to continue this series. Next will probably churches in the Hollywood area, and of course churches further down Wilshire Blvd. Let me know your thoughts on this.

See you next time.



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