Cultural diversity is part of the Southland’s history and well represented by the many historic churches of the area. These five are just a sample of the many religious centers that have brought peace of mind, solidarity and unity, mutual support and a sense of meaning to the lives of past generations. While most still serve congregations, they also have historical value for visitors of any denomination. Cultural centers and tours are available to the public. These choices, moreover, are in otherwise historical districts in Los Angeles well worthy of appreciation.
La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles
535 N. Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Established in 1822, one year after Mexico won its independence from Spain, Nuestra Señora la Reina is the oldest church proper in Los Angeles and is not considered part of Spain’s Mission System. Known in English as Our Lady the Queen of the Angels, it is located in the Plaza Historic District near Olvera Street. The church and district are a destination for all of those interested in the Southland’s early history. Franciscan priests directed Native American converts in the building of the original structure. In 1862, renovations took on the more familiar ‘Mission Style,’ a bell tower was built in the 1870s and later renovations in 1912 created the church’s current appearance.
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Saint Mary the Virgin
Anglican-Rite Catholic Church
22601 Lassen St.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Located next to the Oakwood Memorial Park, the site of a cemetery since 1924 and an even older Native American graveyard, puts the church at the center of historic Chatsworth. The area was immortalized in the heyday of Hollywood westerns, and the Old Stagecoach Trail winds through the area. In 1888, the first Methodist Episcopal congregation planned and built the Victorian-style church near what is now Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Also known as the Pioneer Church, the building was neglected for decades before the Chatsworth Historical Society moved it to the current location and restored it in the 1980s. Today it is a consecrated Anglican-Rite Catholic Church and is the oldest Protestant church in the San Fernando Valley.
Wilshire Boulevard Temple
3663 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
This is the first Jewish congregation temple built in Los Angeles and has been serving the community since 1929. From 1862 to when the temple was finished, the congregation was active, using other buildings in the downtown area. Other important ‘sacred buildings’ in the Wilshire Center area add to the temple’s historical value. The building is nothing less than a masterpiece of early 20th century architecture. From its Byzantine dome to biblical murals, and with its marble, gold inlays and fine woodwork, the building remains an historical treasure.
Mission San Fernando Rey de España
15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd.
Mission Hills, CA 91345
The San Fernando Mission was part of the missionary thrust that established colonial Spain in California. Founded in 1797, the mission has functioned in many capacities. At first, it functioned as a working agricultural and craft center, as well as a military outpost. And then after a period of secularization, the mission returned to the control of the Catholic Church in 1861. Today, the site is home to a parish chapel and tourist center. The museum reviews a long history with artifacts and displays. The grounds are simple and reminiscent of the early days of California. Visitors will gain a strong appreciation for the history of that time before the American intervention and statehood.
815 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Rounding out the Southland’s historic religious buildings is the Nishi Hongwanji Los Angeles Betsuin Buddhist Temple. Since 1905, the congregation has been collectively seeking understanding of the ‘profound Oneness of all life.’ The brick building is a central landmark in Little Tokyo built by early Japanese immigrants. With a mix of Egyptian and Asian architecture, the building takes on an exotic presence – a blend of East and West. Additionally, the building played a major role during World War II. Interned Americans of Japanese heritage were able to store valued possessions, as well as important documents, and the temple held out hope that the community would rebuild. Today, it is the home of the Japanese American National Museum.