While Los Angeles may not be one of the oldest cities in the United States, it still has a long history, originally settled in 1781 by Mexican-Spanish pioneers. Bringing the Catholic religion with them via the Spanish conquerors of Central America meant the first church in the City of Angels was of that faith; since then, many different theological groups have come to the city and built their own houses of worship. Nowadays, many of those historic structures remain and continue to be places where Angelenos find spiritual guidance.
Visitors to Southern California are welcomed into these fascinating architectural gems, many of which were built more than 100 years ago. They can participate in a day of worship or simply (and respectfully) visit to see the beautiful statuary, paintings, stained-glass windows, massive organs, lush gardens and cemeteries that make up each of these unique and historical places. Be sure to make time for both the San Gabriel Mission and the Iglesia Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles, for those are the two oldest churches in all of Los Angeles.
Immanuel Presbyterian Church has a congregation that began in Los Angeles in 1888, with the sect’s current church constructed in 1929. Created by architect Chauncey Fitch Skilling in a French Gothic Revival style, complete with a rose window of stained glass reminiscent of Notre Dame Cathedral. It also features a soaring tower that is over 200 feet high. Oak interiors and large chandeliers grace the area where worshippers gather for services, which are offered in bilingual English and Spanish languages. If this church looks familiar, you’ve probably seen it in a movie or TV show, as it has been a part of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “John Wick” and “Sister Act 2.”
Recommended for Historic Churches because: Named a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2003, this is a beautiful example a classic Gothic Revival structure.
Jenny’s expert tip: Check the church’s schedule of concerts, as the sanctuary is often used for musical events ranging from classical to jazz.
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The Wilshire Boulevard Temple was originally founded during the Lincoln Administration by Jews who had migrated all the way to California. After having a number of temples in different locations around Los Angeles, this Byzantine-influenced temple styled after the Parthenon in Rome opened in 1929. The temple’s dome has an open eye at the center and beautiful stained-glass windows dot the walls. The wall murals were financed by the Warner brothers (Jack, Harry and Abraham) of Hollywood fame in honor of their deceased brothers Milton and Samuel. Also contributing elements of the temple were MGM’s Louis B. Mayer, Universal Studios’ Carl Laemmle; the organ was donated by Union Bank. More recently in 2018, the temple broke ground on architect Rem Koolhaas’ eye-popping modern building that will serve as the Audrey Irmas Pavilion, an event space and gathering place for the congregation.
Recommended for Historic Churches because: A designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument as well as on the National Register of Historic Places, this temple is a must-see part of California’s Jewish legacy.
Jenny’s expert tip: Play Mah-Jongg, the Chinese tile-based game, at the monthly afternoon games that the temple hosts.
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The First Congregational Church of Los Angeles is the oldest Protestant house of worship in the City of Angels, with a congregation founded in 1867. The imposing Gothic-Revival style structure the congregation now uses was built in 1932 on 157,000 acres, which are also home to the Shotto Chapel and the Seaver Building. The huge church tower is 157 feet high, while massive bronze doors designed by Canadian artist Albert Gilles greet parishioners as they enter, with scenes from the life of Christ portrayed there. The imposing oak pulpit is carved with representations from the New Testament of the Bible. Designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2002 for its beauty and importance to the general community
Recommended for Historic Churches because: Be sure to take a close look at the lovely stained-glass window in the east chancel, where Christ’s life is depicted.
Jenny’s expert tip: With one of the largest pipe organs in the world, music services here go beyond gospel to include jazz, Americana and contemporary sounds during services.
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The Church of the Epiphany is an Episcopal house of worship whose origins trace back to 1886 when the first church was built. That served until 1913, when this small architectural gem designed by Arthur Benton was constructed, with the original building now serving as the church’s parish hall. It is a beautiful, simple stone building, inspired by Gothic architecture, with original stained-glass windows. The Church of the Epiphany is the city’s oldest Episcopal church, serving Los Angeles for over 120 years. This place played a huge part in the Latino movement led by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in the 1960s and 1970s; it was the group’s home base and the spot where La Reina, the organization’s newspaper, was printed. In 2005, the church was designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument
Recommended for Historic Churches because: The history of Chicano political activism is a fascinating part of the fabric of the life of this venerable church.
Jenny’s expert tip: Music lovers will enjoy the vintage pipe organ with hand-painted pipes, played every Sunday during services; other Latin-influenced combos, complete with conga drums, also get the congregation singing and dancing then, too.
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The Los Angeles California Temple is a place of worship for all of Southern California’s followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). This huge structure sits at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Overland Avenue in West Lost Angeles and is the religion’s second largest temple (after the original in Salt Lake City). The temple opened in 1956 after construction began in 1951. With a stark white exterior created from granite, crushed quartz and white Portland cement, with the always present (at every Mormon temple) statue of the Angel Moroni atop the temple, this is a place where only LDS members are allowed to enter. However, just behind the temple is a visitor’s center, where you can learn more about the religion.
Recommended for Historic Churches because: An iconic sight in the Southern California landscape, the Mormon Temple fills a huge block of Santa Monica Boulevard.
Jenny’s expert tip: Keep your eyes alert while driving down Santa Monica Boulevard for a great glimpse of Los Angeles California Temple high atop a hill.
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Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki
St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral was constructed in 1925, created to serve a growing parish that had formed in 1890. This massive structure was designed by brothers Pierpont and Walter Davis in homage to Neo-Romanesque churches found in Italy. Soaring ceilings, a large rose stained glass window, a huge organ and an Italian marble altar are some of the pleasing elements found in this majestic cathedral. There is also a stained-glass window commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, which was installed in 1977. Christian services are held on Sundays, as well as on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings here. Recitals and concerts are also hosted at St. John’s as part of their Cathedral Arts Guild program.
Recommended for Historic Churches because: Listed as both a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and a National Register of Historic Places, this cathedral is one of L.A.’s most famous structures.
Jenny’s expert tip: Don’t miss the gold mosaics found on the chapel walls and look up to see the angels depicted in the choir.
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It took the Greek community in Los Angeles close to 50 years to make St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church a reality. Built in 1952, the green-domed Byzantine-influenced cathedral design is reminiscent of churches back in the community’s home country of Greece. The parishioners began gathering together in 1906 and as the years passed, many well-known Greek-Americans became part of this traditional church, including actors Telly Savalas and George Chakiris. The cathedral’s ornate interior features massive chandeliers, high arches lining the nave and an elaborate altarpiece and fresco above. Services are held on Sundays, and visitors can visit the cathedral from Tuesday to Sunday at selected times.
Recommended for Historic Churches because: One of the loveliest historic churches on the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument list, designated in 1973.
Gina’s expert tip: The church is also the location for the annual Los Angeles Greek Festival, a food, wine, music and cultural fest held every October for more than 20 years.
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Photo courtesy of Gina Douglas Tarnacki
The St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church is a beautiful example of the Spanish-Baroque architectural style, with elements of California mission-style architecture incorporated as well. Designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1971, it was built in 1925, many years after the parish (the third Catholic parish in L.A.) was founded in 1887. The current church was constructed after the congregation outgrew its original church, as the parish grew rapidly in the early 19th century due to the increase in people moving to Los Angeles. Today, this massive church designed by architect Albert C. Martin Sr. and paid for by famed local oilman Edward Doheny welcomes people to worship at masses daily and on six times on Sunday. This famed church has been featured in a number of films, including “End of Days.”
Recommended for Historic Churches because: The massive altar is a focal point of this historic church, with a beautiful triptych as the centerpiece. Don’t miss it.
Jenny’s expert tip: The church is located on a tree-lined street and the grounds of the school and church are great for walking around for some photo ops.
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The San Gabriel Mission was the fourth California mission to be built out of a total of 21. This mission was founded in 1771 and was named for Archangel Gabriel. Franciscan priests founded the mission, which In 1775 was moved five miles east to its current location after military interference. The mission is famous for being the only California mission to have a Moorish design, created by Spaniard Antonio Cruzan. predominately made out of stone and brick with flying buttresses in the ceiling. When it was damaged in the 1804 earthquake, the buttresses were torn out and replaced with a new roof. In 1812, the mission withstood another earthquake but lost its bell tower in the process. The new campanile built soon after holds six bells that still chime out today. Now run by Claretian priests, the mission remains a vibrant outpost of the Catholic Church.
Recommended for Historic Churches because: The oldest place of worship in Los Angeles County, the San Gabriel Mission has been a part of the spiritual fabric here since 1771.
Jenny’s expert tip: The original church of Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Mission, still conducts mass every day that are open to the public, offered in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
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Iglesia Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles â” or as it is often called La Placita â” means “the church of our lady queen of angels.” The oldest church in Los Angeles, it is located in the “little plaza” downtown known as El Pueblo, where the settlement of Los Angeles began. This small Roman Catholic church founded in 1784 and completed in 1822, the church has suffered repeated damage because of earthquakes, with rebuilding required. Always on the same original site, the church as it stands now dates to 1861, still one of the oldest structures in all of Los Angeles. With its traditional California mission-style architecture, the church hearkens back to much simpler times. The altar inside is gilded in gold sections, that highlight the paintings on the wall, adding to the simplistic beauty and old-country feel of the church.
Recommended for Historic Churches because: With all masses held in Spanish, this daily house of worship remains true to its roots, originally built by Spanish missionaries in the 1700s.
Jenny’s expert tip: On an adjacent street to the church, Olvera Street is the Avila Adobe, which is the oldest house still erect in Los Angeles.
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