Friday, December 5, 2014

Some Early Long Beach Churches


In 1887 a Congregational church was organized with sixteen members, including Margaret & Jotham Bixby.  Margaret Hathaway Bixby, the daughter of a Congregational minister, persuaded her husband to erect a building which could seat 150 on what is now the corner of Third and Cedar.  Called "Cerritos Hall," its first activity was on April 17, 1887.  Presbyterian minister Wardell of Wilmington conducted the service, assisted by Baptist minister L.W. Hayhurst and Methodist minister S.J. Fleming. In a letter to the Times dated April 21, 1887, the writer stressed the new hall was not a Presbyterian Church. Margaret Bixby didn’t want it to be looked upon as a church dedicated to any particular religious faith or form of worship.  Instead she wanted it to be used by any religious denomination and for secular purposes as well. The first pastor was Rev. A.J. Wells, who served for one year, followed by Rev. R.M. Webster of Wisconsin who remained for six years.  Rev. Jenkins took the helm for a few months until Rev. Sydney Kendall came from Canada.  He remained until 1899 when Rev. Charles Pease of Massachusetts was called to serve.
  In 1897, the hall no longer needed for secular purposes, the Bixbys formally gave the property to the Congregationalists and a new building was planned. On October 12, 1902, the new $7000 edifice opened for business.  It had been an interesting lesson in design for the old Cerritos Hall had to be incorporated into the new, while at the same time staying open for services.  Designed by architect Henry Starbuck in what was called the “mission style,” the porches were broad and the entrance wide.  The base of the church walls was an arroyo of cobblestones rising to almost five feet.  The rest of the exterior was done in cement, while the roofs were covered with tile shaped shingles.  The new portion of the building consisted of a 48x48 foot auditorium, with a gallery overhead. This formed a nucleus around which smaller rooms, such as classrooms and a 12x24 foot library, were gathered.  The south wall of the auditorium was attached to the old hall which served as a Sunday school; together they could seat nearly 1000 people.  The parsonage had been moved to the west side of the church and remodeled and connected with the church by lattice work.
  On opening day the ladies of the church were out in force decorating with flowers and palms getting ready for the 4 p.m. formal dedication. An elaborate program was in the offing with Rev. Horace A. Day conveying the dedicatory prayer and Dr. George A. Gates, president of Pomona College, delivering the sermon.  In addition a chorus of twelve “of the best singers in the city” accompanied the musical portion of the program.  The audience then joined in singing an original hymn, written for the occasion by Rev. H.A. Reid of Pasadena. Rev. Charles Pease, pastor of the church then spoke briefly of the church and its growth, while Rev. Sydney Kendall, a former pastor, gave a scripture lesson.
     In 1914 the current  Italian Romanesque style church,  was completed at a cost of $210,000.


The Quaker Friends Church was among the earliest churches established in Long Beach.  A Friends’ Bible class was organized in February 1888 and the little congregation met in Cerritos Hall until the Quakers built their own church at the southeast corner of First and American in 1889.  Their first house of worship was a small frame building enlarged a few years later to house the growing number of parishioners; but the continued growth of the congregation soon outpaced the structure.  A new lot for a new church was purchased at 6th and American and the new edifice dedicated with a simple but impressive service conducted by Rev. Thomas Armstrong on Sunday, August 3, 1902.  The new church was described by the press as “a commodious structure, well arranged to meet the needs of the congregation.”  It contained a basement to be used for social purposes, a kitchen and dining room.  The ground floor housed a Sunday school room, as well as an “audience” room, separated by a sliding door which could be opened to provide additional space.  The new structure had cost over $6000, and on opening day the debt still owed was over $1200, but $750 donated during the celebratory ceremonies lowered the debt considerably.
  Not long after its completion the Pacific Electric Company located its car barns in the neighborhood, so the Quakers decided in 1904 to move to 4th Street and Elm Avenue.  In 1923 an even larger house of worship was erected at 9th and Atlantic.

First Christian

     On December 1, 1894, Long Beach pioneers met at the home of Elmer and Fannie Bacon on East First Street and organized the First Christian Church.  They did not obtain a regular pastor, however, until October, 1895 when the Rev. L.O.  Ferguson was appointed and guaranteed a salary of $25 per month.  The congregation worshiped in Pickle’s Hall on East First street until two lots were leased at the southeast corner of Third and Elm where a building was erected in the spring of 1897. In 1903 the church purchased the property at the southwest corner of Fourth and American and the building at Third and Elm moved to that site. 
     In 1936, Rev. Francis A. Wight recalled the early days of the church and how William Erwin Willmore, the founder of Long Beach, was converted in a tent revival meeting.  Later that same night, with the flickering light of lanterns held high by devout churchman, Willmore was baptized in the ocean.
      In 1989 the church bought the Christian Science building at 4th & Elm and moved to that location.


     A group of newcomers from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, led to the founding of Long Beach’s first Baptist Church.  The Shoenberger’s, Alairs and Albrickson families had all been members of the same Baptist Church in Detroit Lakes before moving to Long Beach.  In Long Beach the families found five other Baptists and started a church. The group met in the living quarters back of Mr. Alair’s hardware store on Pine Avenue.  Eventually a Sunday school was organized in Pickle’s Hall at the southeast corner of First and Locust.  A little later, $150 was appropriated from the church board and the services of Rev. C.W. Gregory were procured.  Gregory preached his first sermon in Long Beach on April 23, 1894, and on May 20, 1894, the church was officially organized. Its history records that members at that time were Mr. and Mrs. Alair, Mr. and Mrs. Shoenberger, Miss Lizzie Albrickson, Elder S.C. Blitch, who preached occasionally; four others of the Blitch household; Mrs. Laura Owens, A. Phelps, Mrs. Hattie Spradlin, J.T. Talbert, W.J. Morrison and A.H. Owens. 
     On July 14, 1895, a little frame structure was erected and dedicated as the First Baptist Church; on March 14, 1899, the church, which then had 100 members, was incorporated. Near the end of 1899 the Baptists bought the Chautauqua Hall property at 4th and Pine for $3000; $750 was spent on improving the building already on the site.  This church was dedicated as the First Baptist edifice May 8, 1900.  In 1905 the property was sold for $20,000.  The southwest corner at 4th and Locust was then purchased, for $11,900 and construction of a new church was started there in 1906. This was the home for the church for the next 44 years until a new structure on the corner of 10th and Pine was purchased on May 13, 1948, for $137,000.

Christian Science

     In 1896 small groups began gathering in various homes to study Christian Science philosophy. As the movement grew the need for a larger meeting place became apparent. In 1902 a small cottage called “The Barnacle” was rented and used as a place of worship and as a reading room. In 1904 the First Church of Christ Scientist was incorporated and organized with 17 members. Various meeting places were rented and outgrown until in 1912 two lots on Elm north of Fourth street were purchased and construction began on a modern $90,000 edifice designed by Los Angeles architect Elmer Grey.
      In 1989 the First Christian Church of Long Beach purchased the building for their services. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, now holds services at 3629 Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach.

Church of the Golden Rule

      In January 1895 a group of Long Beach residents decided they needed an “independent” church.  They proposed founding a church with a platform so broad and liberal that anyone, pagan, Christian or Turk, could accept it.  The only qualification needed was brotherly love and a willingness to “Do unto others even as you would have others do unto you.”  They didn’t want to interfere with any of the other churches in the community, but they had found like-minded folk who did not agree or affiliate with any of the different sects.
      Sunday, April 8, 1895, the new church held its first services at the Congregational church to hear Rev. R.M. Webster install pastor W.P. Haworth as minister to the only church of its kind in the world.  Officers were also installed: President, John Roberts; usher, Winfield Smith; recording secretary, O.H. Harlan; treasurer, Mrs. E.H. McCracken; musical director, Miss Bertha Truax; corresponding secretary, Miss Mignonette Bellew; vice president, Mrs. Mollie Richmond.   In July they introduced a new feature into their social gatherings---dancing!  On January 5, 1896, they celebrated their first anniversary at Forester hall, but nothing further is heard about the organization.  They failed to appear in the city’s first City Directory in 1899. 

Methodist Church

July 22, 1900, was a great day for Long Beach Methodists, no longer would they have to have services in the Tabernacle, which stood at the northeast corner of Third and Locust, they had a new house of worship on the northeast corner of Pine and Fifth.  The new Methodist church which had its first services that day, could seat nearly 1000 people, and the lot, costing $1050, was entirely paid for.  The cost of the building, according to the July 23, 1900 Los Angeles Times was $5487, with furnishings costing $2342. Ceremonies were held during the annual Chautauqua.  The church had a debt of $28,000 hanging over it which was reduced to less than half by the contributions of the congregation and Chautauquans at the dedication services.
The cornerstone of the church had been laid September 26, 1899; in it was a time capsule which included a Bible, copies of numerous denominational publications, lists of names of officers of the official bodies in connection with the church, names of subscribers to the church fund and copies of Long Beach papers.

Services on the morning of the dedication started with an organ recital by Ada Kinman.  Mozart’s “Gloria” was presented by the choir and scriptures read by Rev. Spring of Garden Grove, and Rev. F.V. Fisher of Ventura, a former pastor of the Long Beach Church.  The offertory was sung by Miss Chingren, Mrs. Enderly and Mrs. Neece.  The sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. R.S. Cantine, pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.  He spoke of the account of the loves and the fishes, and the miraculous feeding of the multitude.           His address was brief, and after its completion, a half-hour was spent in receiving subscriptions for the lifting of the church debt.
The church would remain in this location until August 1909 when a new structure was dedicated at Fifth and Pacific.  At a cost of $150,000 it was hailed as the most beautiful and costly church in the city.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

  On August 22, 1900, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at Fifth and Locust was dedicated.  The Rev. W.E. Jacob had taken charge of the Episcopal mission in Long Beach in 1897, riding on horseback between San Pedro, Wilmington and the village here. He had been keep busy conducting mission meetings in all three places.  He was still in charge of Episcopalian activities in Long Beach when the new church opened, but resigned in December 1910, when he was succeeded by Rev. Charles T. Murphy.  Fifteen clergymen from various parts of Southern California attended the Wednesday morning dedication, according to the August 25, 1900 Los Angeles Times. Rev. Archdeacon True of Los Angeles led the dedication ceremonies which were followed by a luncheon.
E.T. Harnett was senior warden of the mission from its inception in 1897, a position he held for more than 50 years.  The $5,000 church, designed by Henry F. Starbuck, a Long Beach resident, was later taken over by the First Christian Church when a new Episcopal Church was built at Seventh and Locust in 1918.

A welcome gift came from the estate of railroad magnate Charles Crocker in 1906. Crocker, who had a major interest in the Long Beach Land and Development Company, also purchased property in Long Beach in the late 1880s.  In 1901, Alice King’s mother contacted Crocker’s heirs and reminded them of the undeveloped Long Beach property and mentioned that the church would like to take over one of the lots.  It seemed the property was to be sold for delinquent taxes. Unaware they even owned the land, the heirs quickly paid the taxes but told the church the property couldn’t be divided because the heirs were under age. Five years later Alice King took up her dead mothers cause and contacted them again.  Though both lots had been sold a $2000 donation was given by thankful Crocker’s heirs to the church. (LAT 2/27/06)


Up until 1900 there were fewer than 200 Catholics in Long Beach and most attended services in Wilmington.  In the fall of 1902, however, it looked like Long Beach Catholics would have their own church.   On October 19, 1902, a crowd estimated to be around 2000, gathered to witness the laying of the corner stone of St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church at 6th and Olive.  It was Bishop George Montgomery who led the ceremony, blessing the cornerstone and filling a time capsule with copies of local newspapers, a synopsis of church history and some coins and badges.

  The project was launched by a group of Roman Catholics including Mrs. J.M. Morris, Judge H.C. Dillon and Mrs. John Ena who convinced the local Catholic bishop to build a church in Long Beach.  Mrs. Morris sought the assistance of real estate agent Frank Shaw who donated two acres on Quality Hill.  Since this location was too far from the city, it was sold and a 100x100 foot lot on Sixth and Olive was purchased.  Next to this Thomas Wall owned a 50x150 foot lot which he donated for the resident priest’s home.  Mrs. Morris herself owned 56x200 feet next to Wall’s property which she also donated to the church.  On June 21, 1902, it was decided that a church would be built, and at this first meeting $750 was raised. In the next few weeks $1500 more was added to the coffers and on August 23rd the plans of Los Angeles architect Munsell were accepted and L.J. Kelly appointed superintendent of construction. Like the Congregational Church, it too was in the mission style and was expected to cost around $3,500.  It was dedicated on July 19, 1903.
It was built to hold about 300 parishioners with the choir loft, at the rear of the building, seating about 150. In the south end a stained glass oval window costing $200 had been donated by H.C. Dillon.  At the other end of the church was a similar window, paid for by the people of the parish. By the time of dedication the church had almost been paid for.  The money raised mainly by church fairs.  However, everyone was so tired of church fairs that the church board had voted to do away with them. The rest of the money would be raised by individual subscriptions, alone.
The dedication service began at 10:30 a.m. on July 19, 1903. A crowd of devout worshipers had filled the structure to its limit, and from outside men climbed on carriages and peered into the windows.  The high altar, with its burning candles and incense was beautiful and impressive.  A solemn high mass was celebrated by Bishop Conaty from Los Angeles.  Rev. Ramon Ferrer of Wilmington was assigned acting priest.
Additional property was acquired and a new building started in 1913. A parish school was later built.

Information from the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Herald. Photos courtesy Long Beach Public Library