Admiring the inspired designs of L.A.-area churches


The Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society sanctuary in North Hills is widely known as “the Onion,” with its bulbous shape and tiny, flat roof at the peak.

But beginning in March, the Onion may also be known as one of Los Angeles County’s top examples of architecture in a religious building from the 1960s.

Religious buildings: A photograph of the Chapel of the Jesus Ethic in Glendale accompanying a Jan. 18 article in Section A about the architecture of religious buildings was incorrectly credited to the Foundation of Niscience; the photo was taken by Larry Underhill. —

The Unitarian sanctuary is among 20 ecclesiastical structures that are listed in an online poll sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy and volunteers from its Modern Committee.

The conservancy works to recognize and preserve the county’s architectural and cultural resources.

Others chosen for the poll include the pyramid-shaped Congregational Church of Northridge, the First Lutheran Church in Northridge with its boomerang-style steeple and the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, an example of abstract modernist design.

The competition featuring religious buildings, one of six conservancy polls focusing on different types of structures, is part of a nine-month education and outreach program dubbed “the Sixties turn 50,” as the group celebrates and preserves the era’s architecture.

“It was a prolific building period in Los Angeles,” said Cindy Olnick, the conservancy’s director of communication. “We want to raise awareness of that period.”

The program includes tours, panel discussions and movies. The online polls, Olnick said, were put together to help spark discussion and include those unable to attend the group’s events. “We wanted a permanent component for the public to interact,” she said. “We wanted to get people to start looking at buildings, to see what people like and identify buildings we don’t know about.”

Olnick said the buildings chosen for the 1960s competitions reflect their era, a time when the region’s population was booming, the freeway system was built and the car culture peaked.

This led architects to favor designs with detailed facades and odd building shapes, she said.

“They’re bold statements from the street,” Olnick said.

For example, one building in the contest, Vallejo Drive Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale, was designed as a polygonal drum, topped by a dramatic, folded-plate-style roof.

Another, St. Basil Catholic Church on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, is composed of 12 towers that are each more than 80 feet high, with the tallest rising to about 180 feet. The towers are laced together with stained-glass windows and are said to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.

The online poll won’t be a factor in deciding which building is selected by the conservancy but is designed to show people’s favorite ecclesiastical structures from the era. To vote, go to the conservancy’s website, at