Other Articles about Universalism on the Pacific Coast
This church is AKA "Los Angeles Universalist Church". Both the Universalists and the Unitarians had large churches near downtown Los Angeles. But only the Unitarian one survived: the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, now informally known as "First Church" (Unitarian-Universalist). From 1907-1957 another "First Church" existed nearby: the First Universalist Church of Los Angeles. It doesn't seem that there was much (if any) cooperation between these churches and in the end, the Universalist Church was ultimately destroyed because it refused to merge with the Unitarians.
There are gaps and speculations (some marked by ??) in this history. The author has no firsthand knowledge of the events described. But better to have an incomplete and inaccurate history than none at all. If you have any corrections or information, please let me know.
Visiting ministers preached in Los Angeles in the 1880's (presumably in rented halls). Dr. Deere, who founded the Riverside Church, preached for several weeks during the winter of 1881-2. Then, Dr. Shinn, who also got churches going in Oregon, arrived from the East in the spring of 1882. He organized a Ladies Circle to raise money for a future church building. Later on, the Rev. A. A. Rice took over. After 5 years of service, he retired to his orange grove in Sierra Madre. The society (church) had not been able to provide him with adequate financial support. But during Rice's tenure, a building site was purchased in a residential neighborhood (the one on Alvarado St. ??).
For a while the church languished but then in 1901 Rev. R. W. Leland came to Los Angeles and revived the society.
The Universalist movement in Los Angeles was taken over in 1905 by the Rev. Henry L. Canfield, D.D. (from Ohio). In January 1907, Dr. C. Elwood Nash, who was sponsored by the Universalist General Convention, became the pastor. For the next three years they met in rented facilities downtown: Cumnock Hall (1500 S. Figueroa St.) and McKinley Hall (730 S. Grand Ave., 4th floor; in 1910 city directory but not in 1913 directory). The Unitarian Church was then located at 925 S. Flower St., just a few blocks away from McKinley Hall, but there was likely little contact between the two denominations.
In August 1910 they completed construction of a chapel/Sunday school at 1373 S. Alvarado St. (corner of Hoover St., just a block S. of Pico Blvd.). Designed by Arthur W. Angel it was veneered with artificial stone up to the level of the first row of window sills. Above there, it was blue brick to the cornice with the gables half timbered and half plastered. In a drawing, it shows 3 rows of windows implying that it was 2 stories high plus a windowed basement. From now on, the church had its own building to meet in and didn't have to pay rent for a meeting place. The $7,000 debt on it was paid off the next year.
It was located almost 2 miles away (to the west) from the downtown Unitarian church but when the Unitarians relocated to their present location on 8th St. in 1927, the two churches were only about a mile apart.
Then 5 years later (in 1915) on the Alvarado St. site, the Universalists built a full size church (dimensions about 45x75 feet) to seat 325 people (including the balcony). Hoover St. was on the back side of the church, but Hoover and Alvarado intersect at an acute angle on the south side of the church. Today in 2003, where the church building once stood is now a parking lot. But an old brick church of another denomination still stands on the other side of the street.
The First Universalist Church was dedicated on July 11, 1915. It was joined to the Sunday school which had been built there 5 years earlier. The auditorium was on the first floor with the remainder of the newly constructed rooms in the half-basement which had windows to the outside at ground level. Altogether, there were 15 classrooms, a young people's hall, a social hall, and a dining room with a small stage. It also had a ladies' parlor, a kitchen and kitchenette, and janitor's living quarters. A substantial bell tower rose over the main entrance.
The construction was of reinforced concrete and hollow tile (similar to the sanctuary at Throop Church in Pasadena). It was thus earthquake resistant. The exterior finish was of Medina cement which was "white as snow" so that the building did not need painting. Today one would likely use white portland cement instead. The edifice had a composition slate roof (not real slate but it looks like slate), pine trim, pine floors, and cathedral glass windows. Thus with no hardwood floors, no stained glass windows, and imitation slate on the roof, it was of rather modest construction: durable but not luxurious.
It was designed by H. Fredrickson with plans prepared by Henry K. Klung of 160 S. Virgil Ave. The building committee was: Wm. H. Doty (chair), Dr. Norman F. Bridge (of Caltech) , and Rev. C. E. Nash (the pastor). Norman Bridge has a Caltech Laboratory named after him and the main stained glass window at Throop Memorial Church in Pasadena is dedicated to him. The cost of this church construction was about $20,000 and was likely mostly financed by debt. By 1937 only a little over $1000 of the debt remained.
Nash's wife, Carrie M. Sawtelle Nash, designed the parsonage for the First Church at 1363 S. Alvarado, just north of the church
View from the south looking north. Alvarado St. is in the foreground and runs past the flag in a north-easterly direction. The telephone pole to the left marks Hoover St. which runs due north.
On November 29, 1922 someone ransacked the church and set fire to it. The arsonist was never found, but a half-burned candle was found in the basement which was presumably used to start the fire. The damage was over $500.
In 1923, Clinton Lee Scott became (assistant ??) minister. He served until 1926 and then continued preaching at another Universalist church. His biography is at Clinton Lee Scott (Universalist Minister). He is also briefly mentioned in Wikipedia.
In 1929 ?? Sheldon Shepard, D.D. became the minister replacing Nash who died in 1932. In 1936 the church had 245 members and the minister, Sheldon Shepard, ran for the US Congress as a Democrat but lost to a Republican. See Shepard's Life and Writings for details. On the weekend of June 5, 1939 a group of Quakers met at the Church and formed the what was to become the "Humanist Society of Friends", a national organization. It's currently a subsidiary of the American Humanist Association. See Humanist Society and Wikipedia.
In 1944, Dr. Raymond L. Forman was the acting minister and later became the regular minister. The former minister, Sheldon Shepard, had left to start up the "People's Church of the San Fernando Valley" (a Unitarian-Universalist church which anticipated the merger by 17 years). In 1953 (and earlier ??), Shepard was the minister of the Universalist Church of Hollywood but submitted a letter of resignation in 1956.
In 1938 the church issued a one page report to the Universalist Convention. Things were going well for a depression year but there were a few ominous signs.
The membership was over 200 with a full range of organizations: the womens' group, the young peoples' group, and various departments in the Sunday School. In addition, they had a noon-hour fellowship once or twice a month in a downtown cafeteria with a speaker. A Forum existed and a Men's Club was starting but these two activities suffered a great loss by the death of two most active men. A little Boys' Sweet-Potato Symphony Club performed on Easter Sunday. A School of Leadership to train lay persons for leadership was given on two evenings a week by Dr. Shepard and two associates. A social service organization, "Universalist Neighbors", did community service (examples ??).
In 1938, the Treasurer's reports showed a surplus as compared to deficits in many past years. Many transients (staying in cheap hotels, etc.) attended the church. Reports for years other than 1938 were made too (but where are they now?).
Charles Ellwood Nash was born in Allamuchy NJ on Mar. 31, 1855. He's listed in "Who Was Who in America, Vol. 1". He graduated from Lombard University, and Tufts College. Then he served various churches in the East and also did a 10-year stint as president of Lombard College. When he came to Los Angeles to preach at First Church, he was 52 years old and retired at age 73. He died 4 years later on Apr. 4, 1932.
Nash was once the minister at the Universalist church in Akron, Ohio. Here's what their website says about him: "The most colorful minister of the Golden Era was Dr. C. Elwood Nash, who was pastor from 1884-1891. Dr. Nash was an aggressive debater on doctrinal subjects. His sermons were spectacular attacks on orthodox theology, Catholic in particular, and his large personal following packed the church balcony, Sunday after Sunday."
Quoting from Nash (reported in a sermon given by Paul Beedle at the Riverside Church): "We [Universalists] have the truth, the real gospel. We stand ready, and we feel qualified, to offer reassurance to minds rent by doubts; to unriddle much of life's most puzzling mystery; to give comfort, cheer, guidance, to all. Our faith is revelational; it is rational; it is inspirational; it is sunny, though serious; it harmonizes the providences of God and the faculties of man; it is democratic; it anticipates and allows for progress; ... it welcomes science, evolution, even revolution in its place, while religiously holding fast to the heritage of past uplifts ... (That) Universalism is such a faith as the world needs and is seeking I ... have no doubt at all. ... I confess that I do anticipate its ultimate acceptance as ... the universal religion."
The Rev. Sheldon Shepard served as minister from 1928 (or 1927??) until 1941. Shepard was born on July 13, 1887 in La Jolla, California, and died in Nov. 1973. He held a MA degree from USC as well as a law degree. While he was the minister at First Univ. Church he ran for the US Congress in 1936. A campaign flyer read: "By order of the people: Sheldon Shepard". View it here: By order of the people. In 1936 he he did a daily broadcast over KMTR (a major radio station which became KLAC in 1946). He wrote numerous pamphlets and short books.
During his life he published a number of articles, poems, small books and pamphlets. Some of his earlier ones are excellent (in my opinion). Later on, he published a number of "self-help" books and pamphlets some of which are not so good (in my opinion). Since he published most of these privately, few can be found in libraries??
Some of his writings are somewhat akin to certain books found in "new age" bookstores. His "The Awman Translations" (1944) was touted as a "new era textbook". It was published by 2 different publishers and is in the Library of Congress. Many of his writings were published after he left the First Church but he likely spoke on some of these themes at First.
His pamphlet: "Regaining and Retaining Youth" of 1947 has a list of suggestions for living. Here are some excerpts: "Eat food in as near its natural state as possible: more raw food, whole grain." "Wheat germ, cultivated buttermilk and black molasses (without preservatives) are recommended as foods to preserve youthful conditions." "Hold no hard feelings. Forgive everybody and 'forget it'."
The booklet, "It's Fun to Live", says (p.29): "The indwelling power of the universe always presses toward man's destiny of beauty, harmony, peace." If only this were always so, but it's not. On p.11 he says: "There is no such thing as a barren thought, no thinking which is unproductive." One may take issue with this as well. His writings contain dogma which is not true in all cases, but it does tend to make the reader feel good.
His 1942 pamphlet: "V+, Victory Plus, A four-part plan" is in the UCLA Library Special Collections. (UCLA = University of California at Los Angeles) It was written just after the U.S. entered World War II. It proposes establishing a world government as soon as possible and pleads for an armistice to stop the war during the time the world government is being established. The world government would then presumably set peace terms and settle any territorial disputes, etc. (although he doesn't go into this).
If our enemies rejected such a plan, he argues, this would provide additional moral justification for the allies continuing the war against them. While he mentions that during the armistice, weapons production on both sides would continue, he fails to point out an inherent danger: If trying to establish the world government took too long and then failed, resuming the war with more weapons on each side would result in even more destruction. In my opinion, this dilemma could have been averted by agreeing to halt weapons production during the armistice. There are numerous other implications not examined by this pamphlet. Overall, it was a very progressive proposal and we still don't have world government today (although we have the UN). While this pamphlet claims that it was only to be circulated to a small group to people, it's now available to the world at UCLA.
You Can Do It (A program for self-management and individual triumph). Life-Building Faith (covers life, health, money, and happiness). The Man from Judah (3-act play based on the life of Amos). Peace for your Heart (poetry and prose). Transforming Circumstances (relation of environment and events to personal development). Dreams Against the Sky (poems). Your Good Runs to Meet You (introduction to Shepard's writings). I Take to the Heights (inspirational poems). The Abundant Life (a correspondence course).
A thinking person can raise various objections to some of Shepard's overly simplistic analogies, allegories, and dogma, etc. Such writings would likely not appeal much to many thoughtful people. So while these writings and teachings may have helped attract some people, they may have also turned away others, including critical-thinking people who might have been of great benefit to the church. But his better (and seemingly earlier) writings are morally inspiring.
Several of his better earlier writings and poems (1933) are on the Internet. See Unlovely Saints I Have Known, Alive and Living (a poem), Where The Trail Begins, To the Unknown God! (a poem)
Where the Trail Begins. By Dr. Sheldon Shepard
THERE is an Egyptian Legend about a fabulously rich mine from which, centuries ago, men brought vast wealth. Gold and gems of rare beauty they carried down the trails to their cities, then the people became involved in strife and wars, and devoted themselves to the production and use of instruments of antagonism and destruction. Following that, they revelled in orgies of unrestrained lust and rampant selfishness. The gems were forgotten. Finally, even the trail was lost, and to this day it cannot be found.
We are off the trail toward the heights, where the finest gems of life are hidden. Somewhere in the roaring strife and nerve-breaking rush we left the trail, and after our orgies of extravagance we now stumble about among the rocks and wade in the swamps.
Engrossed in the coarser and lower efforts of life, and led astray by the prevalent struggle and strain, we forget that there is a trail, at the end of which are hidden the rarest gems, and wealth untold.
No other loss can compare with the tragedy of forgetting the trail to the heights. No crash of values, nor surrendering of building, nor severing of limb, represents the detriment that is hidden in the loss of the higher trail.
Alas! That man has lost a leg,
Yet with a radiant face
He walks complacent on his peg,
With compensating grace.
But there goes one across the way
Who needs compassion much;
He lost his faith in life, one day
For him there is no crutch.
At all costs, let one bring back one's faith in life and in oneself. There is no other trail to the heights.
Bee Rock lifts its stony head a few hundred feet above the picnic grounds in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Various groups of picnickers start out to make the not-too-difficult ascent. From any place in the little valley below, one may make it to the top, but some ways are through thorny brush, and some through loose stones. On some trails climbers find themselves at the end of narrow paths on sheer walls of rock, but over many trails they make it in varying degrees of difficulty.
There is a trail, the beginning of which is not often recognized, leading by pleasant and easy grade through arched bowers to the very top. The most difficult thing about the easy trail is finding and recognizing it. Once on the right way, the climb is easy.
Many hikers will proclaim that they prefer the difficult trails. They would rather tire their muscles with strenuous climbing, and tear their hands and feet on briars and stones. If all persons were of such sporting blood with reference to the climb of life, there would be far less misery and fewer failures. The hard way does possess a zest and a tang unknown to the smooth and slowly-ascending trail.
From any point, many trails lead to the heights of life. Some trails are hard, and for those who rejoice in straining of soul and sinew, there is no losing the way. Any way is up as long as one climbs, but there is also an easy way, easy because mind and heart were created for the heights, and the way of Nature is always easy. Exacting, but easy. Working with Nature, the universe is on one's side. "Nature and wisdom always say the same, says Juvenal.
The strain in life is not in living naturally, but in beginning to live naturally. The truth uttered by Bacon applies to far more than material objects: "In Nature things move violently to their place, and calmly in their place." It is also true of thoughts and dreams, and the whole personality. Whenever there is violence, it is because something is out of its natural place or harmony. When there is calm strength, there is harmony with Nature. The stress and strain, and the pain and anguish, occur when something is trying to get to its place. When storms rage, let us see how quickly we can move to our places. Things move violently to their places, calmly in their places.
Supreme human experiences, which crown life with success and satisfaction, are possible to each of us. Whatever may be the details of one's hopes, and however great or small the limits set to one's ambition,
satisfaction for any truly intelligent person must contain at least two well-defined elements. One of these is the feeling on the part of the individual that he has found for himself the real and fundamental values of life; that is, he must believe that, while no one can have everything, yet he has achieved for himself the ultimate values, those things which count the most and last the longest.
The soundness of his philosophy will depend largely upon the kind of things he thinks are fundamental. A man who regards money as the summum bonum may rightly despair when his money disappears. One who regards beautiful thoughts as the essence of true human values will protect that domain against every foe.
There is another element, without which a human being cannot be entirely and permanently happy. He must feel that he is serving the purpose for which his life was made. Life will meet every man at some crossroads and ask this question so pointedly that its shaft will pierce with agony the heart which has not long ago answered for itself.
The heights include the consciousness that life has fitted to considerable degree into the plans of the Creator, obeyed most of the laws of its Being, and worked in with the whole plan of Creation. This is the inescapable urging that we find in the oft-expressed wish that we may "leave the world better than we find it," that we may justify our existence; that we may fit in with the whole scheme of things.
The experience of the heights includes these two deep satisfactions: Assurance that one has found for oneself most of the ultimate values, and confidence that one has served the purpose for which one was given life.
The trail to the heights leads on from where we are now, and we may, if we will, put our feet upon it and start the glorious ascent. A part of the ascent one makes with one's race and one's time. Parts of the common existence, we are to some degree affected by its attainment or failure, but there is for each person a height, the attainment of which depends upon himself. It will always be true, in every civilization that:
To every man there openeth
A way, and ways, and a way,
And the high soul climbs the high way,
And the low soul gropes the low;
And in between, on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A high way and a low,
And every man decideth
The way his soul shall go.
One of the fine lessons one can learn is that the ways do open to us just where we are. On the road to destruction there is no point from which there does not lead a trail to the heights.
If you want to be happy,
Begin where you are.
Don't wait for some rapture
That's future and far.
If dark seems the day,
Light a candle of cheer
Till its steady flame
Brighten each heart that comes near.
Our foot is on the trail when we recognize that our going depends upon ourselves. There is no one who cannot obtain a degree of happiness and be of service to the world. With whatever little equipment and in whatever chains of circumstances, the determination of life is from within. The kingdom of joy and love and peace is a realm of the soul. Out of the heart are the issues of life. Where the soul meets with God there is the center of the universe. There is greatness in the eternal within. The kingdom of God is within you, and it is there that the trail begins.
Due to the need for street widening, the First Church on Alvarado St. was sold (around 1952). They moved about 2 miles W. and 1 mile N. A new "First Church" was purchased at 755 Crenshaw Blvd. a block S. of Wilshire Blvd. It was on the NW corner of 8th and Crenshaw just 2 miles due W. of the Unitarian First Church on the same 8th St. In 2002 it's still standing as the "Hungarian Reformed Church of Hollywood" and has been joined to the apartment building to the N. The church address is now given as 751 Crenshaw (the address of the apartments).
But back to 1953. The minister was Rev. Wallace Maxey who had become the minister in Sept. 1949.. He was gay (but not exactly openly) and an ex-Catholic Priest. See Wallace Maxey and Wallace de Ortega Maxey for his life story.
A dead link which was more critical of Maxey was: http://www.concentric.net/ Cosmas/maxey.htm) The new church was small and only seated about 100 people, but the congregation had declined in numbers. Rev. Maxey allowed gay organizations to meet at the church, primarily Mattachine whose first convention was hosted at LA Universalist in April-May 1953..
During the spring of 1953, Mattachine was "torn apart" by internal conflicts at its meetings at the church. See Gay Today: Review. The award-winning documentary film: "Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay" shows a dramatization of a meeting of Mattachine at "A Los Angeles church" (actually the Universalist one). See KQED - Hope Along the Wind (gay activist Harry Hay)
This was a time when homosexuality was illegal and homosexuals were sometimes jailed or put in mental hospitals. This support of homosexual rights by some Universalists, which from the perspective of today was heroic, unfortunately at that time resulted in congregational discord (since some congregants were strongly opposed to having an active alleged homosexual minister) and this weakened the church. Some complained to the Universalist Association about this. As a result, Maxey departed in March 1954 to become the pastor of the Liberal Universalist Church in Fresno, CA, which was associated with the Universalist Church. In Fresno, he allegedly became an alcoholic. The new temporary minister at the Crenshaw church was the Rev. G. Douglas Frazier. Frazier introduced a new religious education program.
Although there was already a Universalist church in Hollywood, the First Church decided to sell the Crenshaw property and also move to Hollywood. In about 1957 ?? they obtained an impressive mansion on Franklin Blvd. near La Brea for about $40,000, located a little over a half mile away from the other Universalist Church on Hollywood Blvd. These two churches didn't merge and some attendees were not even aware that the other church existed. But church membership continued to decline. Carl York Smith was selected as the permanent minister of First Universalist in the summer of 1958 but his ministry was cut short by the merger of the Unitarians with the Universalists.
The ministers of both these Universalist churches in Hollywood opposed the merger with the Unitarians in 1959 and both churches refused to merge. But their properties had been deeded to the national Universalist organization which prevented the churches (as guided by their ministers) from obtaining title to the property. Just prior to the merger of the Universalists with the Unitarians, these two Universalist churches folded. The Franklin Ave. First Church disbanded in 1959. It sold its property for about $200,000 in 1960 and the money went to the newly created Unitarian-Universalist Association and was in part used to purchase the mountain retreat at De Benneville Pines.
It's not too clear why the church declined, but decline it did. The decline started at the Alvarado location and continued at the other locations further west. Of course, each time a church moves to another location, it tends to lose members. Not right away perhaps, but eventually some will consider that the additional time it takes to get to the new location is not worth the effort. Also, visitors who are not aware the church has moved may stop by again and find no church there.
While Rev. Maxey's strong support of Gays would be likely be welcome in UU circles today, this was not the case in the early 1950s. The role the various ministers played in all this is not known. More input in needed but much of it has been likely lost forever.
In its final years, the congregation was reported to be small and quite elderly. Regarding the old church on Alvarado, a former member once remarked that it would be a good movie set for a murder mystery, implying that its physical condition and orderliness was allowed to seriously deteriorate. The same problems that plagued the large Unitarian First Church on 8th St. may have also hurt the Universalist First Church on Alvarado. This includes parking problems and deterioration in the character of the neighborhood. Even in 1915 it was mentioned that the congregation was of moderate means and in 1938 that many church attendees were transients.
Some of the money (about 50 or 60 thousand) from the sale of the two churches in Hollywood was used for the entire cost of the purchase of the Unitarian Universalist's De Benneville Pines mountain retreat in the San Bernardino mountains. The De Benneville history implies that the entire amount from the sale of the churches was used but this doesn't square with the $200,000 amount allegedly received from the sale of just one of the churches: the Franklin Ave. church. See History of deBenneville Pines.
Vol. XVIII, No. 25. The cover page has a drawing of the Los Angeles church. An article (a half-page in length) presents a brief history of the church and a description of the new building.
From the unpublished manuscript "Pacific Coast Universalism" by Asa Mayo Bradley, p. 15.
Sunday School: Los Angeles Times, 6/12/1910, part V, p.1
Auditorium: Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer (magazine), two issues: 2/20/1915, p.14, col.2; 3/20/1915, p.17, col.2.
See also the Universalist Leader cited above.
The Los Angeles Public Library has a historical catalog which has a
several catalog cards for this church. The LA Times and SW Contractor
articles were found there. But it also has some false leads where I
could find nothing about the First Univ. Church. They were:
Los Angeles Tribune, 1/2/1887 p.2 (Many other churches on this page)
Southwest Manufacturer, 4/10/1915, p.31, col.1. (didn't check it closely)
Los Angeles Times, 11/29/1922, part I, p.15.
Written reports from Universalist churches were sometimes distributed at annual meetings of Universalist ministers from California. There were also short forms that each church was to fill out each year showing their membership, financial condition, etc. A few of these documents are in the archives at Throop Church (ex-Universalist) in Pasadena.
Per Rubin Lovret, they moved to Hollywood around 1956 or so but the LA Times religious section for June 13, 1959 shows them still on Crenshaw. For Sept. 26, 1959, it doesn't list them at all under the "Universalist" heading. They may have moved at an earlier date but failed to list their new address with the Times. Thus they may have been running an ad for the wrong address due to poor administration which often precedes church failure.
Rubin Lovret (a former member of the Los Angles Unitarian Church who had visited the Los Angeles Universalist Churches) supplied some info about the Crenshaw and Franklin Ave. (Hollywood) churches. The Rev. Paul Sawyer (of Throop) furnished the names of other ministers: Clinton L. Scott and Leland P. Stewart (of the other Hollywood church with whom the author spoke). Gay Lyon the son of an assistant minister and the great grandson of the minister, Elwood Nash, supplied the church picture and some info on Nash.