Figueroa Corridor Icon
Visited: March 24, 2016
Being an equal opportunity historic church seeker, on my late morning sojourn, I traveled near downtown Los Angeles to the famed Figueroa Corridor and the beautiful St. Vincent de Paul Los Angeles Church, the second Roman Catholic church in Los Angeles to be consecrated.
Frenchman Vincent de Paul was “renowned for his compassion, humility, and generosity and is known as the Great Apostle of Charity.” He died in 1660 and was declared Patron Saint of all works of charity by Pope Leo XIII. He was canonized June 16, 1737. There is a Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which was founded by French students in the 1830s. It is a charitable organization dedicated to the service of the poor.
In 1914 there were plans in motion to build a new church in L.A. because the largest number of parishioners in parish history had outgrown their other church. St. Vincent was the city’s third Roman Catholic parish. It had been meeting in an 1887 church building on the campus of the former St Vincent’s College (the first college established in L.A. in 1865) in another area of Los Angeles. World War I put the plans for the new church on hold for about a decade.
Ten years later, on July 18, 1924, the first cornerstone was set, and nine months after that (April 1925) the church on the corner of Adams and Figueroa was dedicated. It was designed by Albert C. Martin, who had also designed the famed Churrigueresque-style (Spanish Rococo-style) Million Dollar Theater on South Broadway in downtown L.A.
Interestingly, Martin patterned St. Vincent de Paul after Bertram Goodhue’s California Building at Balboa Park (below) in San Diego (see Balboa Park in California Dreaming. We just visited last month).
The church is photogenic from a number of different spots…
And you get a great view from the sidewalk in front of Popeye’s chicken restaurant across the street, where I kept abreast of the traffic (“on a wing and a prayer” as they say).
and then I opened the door to the church.
St. Vincent de Paul was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1971.
The reredos (altarpiece) contains ten saints and the four Evangelists.
There is a statue of Saint Edward to the left of the saints. By the way, Saint Edward is supposed to be the exact resemblance of Edward Doheny, the oil tycoon who ponied up a quarter of a million bucks for the church.
At the request of Doheny, St. Vincent’s was built at a 45-degree angle in the form of a Latin cross (a cross with a more extended descending arm). This was done to prevent any future building in the area that might detract from the beauty of the church. Doheny also drilled Los Angeles’ first oil well in 1892.
According to an architectural website, the dome is 45 feet in diameter, rises 130 feet in the air, and its exterior “is clad in handmade, glazed ceramic tile.”
TravelsWithMaiTaiTom Factoid (from the West Adams Heritage website): “In 1921, Doheny persuaded his friend, President Warren Harding’s Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall, to lease to Doheny’s oil company large holdings of oil-rich lands owned by the U.S. Navy at Elk Hills in Kern County, California. This, in exchange for a suitcase with $100,000 in cash delivered to a Washington Hotel by Doheny’s son Ned. A similar deal was struck at the same time between Secretary Fall and oilman Harry F. Sinclair for a less valuable Navy oil property at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, in which Sinclair gave Fall $300,000.” Albert became the ultimate “Fall” guy, while Doheny was eventually acquitted, and fortunately the dome of St. Vincent’s is not shaped like a Teapot.
Nearby was none other than St. Vincent de Paul himself. Well, charity does begin at home.
Walking down the small hallways on either side of the reredos, you will see these two sculptures.
The pulpit is carved from a single block of red marble.
Ralph Cram designed the interior of the church, while all the ceilings were the work of John B. Smeraldi, who also was responsible for the ceilings at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Nearby St. Vincent de Paul are the aforementioned Doheny Mansion, and the Stimson House (below photo from wikipedia), the famous 1891 home of lumber and banking millionaire Thomas Douglas Stimson.
I hope there is a way I can visit it in the future, but it looks like I might have to charm some nuns who live there to do that, and I’ve been told my chances of viewing the interior of the Stimson House are slim and nun.
St. Vincent de Paul makes for a worthwhile stop when you’re in Los Angeles (or if you live here and are interested in L.A. history). So many historic buildings have been torn down in the name of “progress” in L.A. that it’s nice to have something this beautiful (along with the lovely homes nearby) that reminds us that L.A. really does have an interesting past. Plus, if you’re hungry, you can grab some chicken across the street when you take the photo of the church.
Saint Vincent de Paul Church
621 West Adams Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90007
Hours: Daily – 8:30 a.m. – Noon.
Parking: Street (free)