You don't have to have a faith or be of a particular faith to appreciate the rich array of religious architecture in the Los Angeles area.
First and foremost is the Mission-style Plaza Church in the historic center of downtown, certainly an appropriate location in a city originally christened El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles, the town of the Queen of the Angels, after St. Francis's chapel in Assisi, Italy.
Located at 535 N. Main St., the simple, adobe structure was originally designed by the Franciscan fathers and built by local Indians in 1822, rebuilt in 1861, blessed with its distinctive bell tower in 1875 and restored and enlarged in 1912. Through it all, the church has retained its historical flavor and charm.
More imposing is St. Vibiana's Cathedral at the southeast corner of 2nd and Main streets, where the Pope stayed on his recent visit here. A studied Italianate design attributed to architects Ezra Kysor and W. J. Matthews and built in the years 1871 to 1876, it was the first consecrated Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles. Despite various remodels, warnings of earthquake and its Skid Row location, the church perseveres.
For a singular example of modern religious architecture, there is the shimmering, mirror glass-skinned Crystal Cathedral at Chapman Avenue and Lewis Street in Garden Grove, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, and built in 1980. And while the exterior is striking, the interior--with its glass roof and walls braced by a web of white space trusses--is stunning, especially when the light is right on a sunny day.
Modern also, but more relaxed and modestly scaled, is St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 1030 Bienveneda Ave., Pacific Palisades. The architecture by Moore Ruble Yudell and landscape design by Campbell & Campbell create a mood that seems just right for the wooded site north of Sunset Boulevard.
The most concentrated collection in Los Angeles of distinctive religious architecture can be found in the mid-Wilshire corridor, where in the late 1920s many downtown churches, following their congregations, built and relocated in sumptuous structures.
One of the more sumptuous is the English Gothic Revival-style First Congregational Church at the northeast corner of Commonwealth Avenue and West 6th Street. It is said to have been inspired by a church in Oxford, England.
Designed by then prolific local architectural firm Allison & Allison, the church features a 176-foot, well-detailed tower and a massive rose window inset with six trefoil tracery windows. Also of note are the bronze doors, displaying scenes from the life of Christ, created by sculptor Albert Gilles.
Rising 205 feet is the ornate bell tower of the Immanuel Presbyterian Church at the southwest corner of Berendo Street and Wilshire Boulevard. The church, designed in 1927 by the firm of Skilling & Patterson, is a splendid example of the soaring French Gothic Revival style, with an exterior marked by a stained-glass rose window above the entry and an interior of beam trusses, columns and arches, a carved wood pulpit, chandeliers and oak furnishings.
Farther west on Wilshire at Hobart Boulevard is the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a fanciful Byzantine-style synagogue dedicated in 1928. It is distinguished by a triple-arched decorated entry, above which is a huge rose window, topped by a mosaic inlaid dome surrounded by small spires.
Matching the spirit of the exterior is an interior that includes black marble columns, cast bronze chandeliers and an altar, ark and choir screen of carved, inlaid mahogany and walnut, framed in marble and mosaic. The rich, well-detailed design was the work of Abraham Adelman, S. Tilton Norton and David Allison.
The synagogue, along with the Congregational and Presbyterian churches, are among five landmark religious buildings in the Wilshire corridor featured on a religious-architecture tour being conducted Nov. 15 by the Los Angeles Conservancy. Tickets are $25 for conservancy members and $30 for the general public, and include shuttle transportation and organ recital. For more details and reservations call (213) 623-CITY.
The synagogue and the churches also are open to the public free at varying times, and also can be viewed from the street, preferably on weekends when the traffic is light.