This Rudolph Schindler-designed church remains a bit of a mystery. Find out more on today's claass HAUS.
Constructed in 1944, Rudolph Schindler's only ecclesiastical design stands at the corner of 49th and Compton Avenue in Los Angeles. Completed at the height of the architect's career, the church is imaginative and radical (in true Schindler style) with complex intersecting planes bounding out to the edge of the street and a minimalist cross-shaped tower emerging from the flat roof like a three-dimensional billboard. Designed to grab your attention, the church looks large and imposing, especially for its modest 2,000 square feet, and the dynamic stucco mass with its long horizontal lines holds a remarkably functional and flexible interior space. By emphasizing the corner lot, creating connections between indoor and outdoor spaces, and paying close attention to natural light, Schindler discarded the usual ecclesiastical imagery in favor of a modern interpretation of spirituality and grace.
Unfortunately, little documentation exists regarding the African American congregation that commissioned Schindler to build the groundbreaking church. According to historian Esther McCoy, who worked in the architect's office at the time, the Baptist congregation first approached another architect (records suggest it might have been James H. Garrott) after their building burned in 1943. The first architect suggested a traditional design, but for reasons unclear, Schindler ended up with the commission (one source links Schindler with a church member who worked for the architect) and managed to design an inventive, forward-looking building within a very limited budget (the construction cost was estimated at $17,000).
Interestingly, the bright white stucco of the church isn't original to the building- the now white walls replaced the Schindler-created mulberry-grey color for the exterior and a deep plum for the interior. This photograph was taken in 2011 (pre-renovations). By Cbl62 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Honestly, I've wanted to look into Schindler's only church for some time now, but the origin story of its design still seems a bit mysterious. Much of what has been written tends to focus on the building's former status as "vacant" or "abandoned." It wasn't until I read this article that I realized a much more textured narrative exists.
In 2009, the Bethlehem Baptist Church was named a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, and in 2014, the building's tenant, Faith-Build International, began restoring the building. You can see some pretty stunning photographs of the restored church here. Last April, a one-night only exhibit, YES, I'VE HAD A FACELIFT, BUT WHO HASN'T?, examined the preservation of the Bethlehem Baptist Church, which still appears to be in a state of continual maintenance.
Find a more extensive history of the site here.
Image at top:
Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. Photographs of buildings in Los Angeles, California and the surrounding area. Los Angeles, California, 2005. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2006675247.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.