BURBANK: THEN & NOW
Nearly 40 years ago, on Aug. 30, 1963, the parishioners of St.
Finbar Catholic Church gathered together to celebrate the 25th
anniversary of their parish. The then-new parish of St. Finbar was
the second Catholic church in Burbank and was built to alleviate the
overcrowding at St. Robert Bellarmine, known as Holy Trinity until a
name change in 1939. In its first 25 years, St. Finbar experienced
rapid expansion, as did the rest of Burbank.
Los Angeles Archbishop Cantwell canonically established St. Finbar
on Oct. 31, 1938. Cantwell named the church after an obscure saint
who was an Irish monk and later Bishop of County Cork in Ireland in
the late 6th and early 7th centuries. It is believed that Cantwell
gave the name to Burbank’s newest church after being inspired on a
trip to Ireland to celebrate the silver jubilee of his sister, a nun.
Monsignor O’Brien was St. Finbar’s first pastor. St. Finbar was one
of three churches established in the Los Angeles Archdiocese that
The first mass was celebrated Nov. 27, 1938, at the American
Legion Hall at 3310 S. Olive Ave., near Warner Bros. About 150
parishioners attended each of the two masses on Sundays and holy
days. By December, the parishioners had created organizations such as
the Holy Name Society and Altar Society, which were found at many
other Catholic churches. They quickly set ambitious fund-raising
plans to construct a permanent place of worship. Their successful
efforts afforded them land on the corner of Olive Avenue and Oak
By 1941, the dreams of the parishioners of St. Finbar had come to
fruition with the construction of their first church, which now
serves at the parish hall. While the church was modest in appearance,
it fulfilled the needs of the church for more than a decade.
Burbank’s population exploded during the 1940s and, so too, did the
Catholic population that St. Finbar was created to serve. The modest
church that had been constructed was becoming rapidly inadequate to
meet the needs of the growing parish.
Parishioners, under the guidance of Monsignor O’Brien, again
started fund-raising through church festivals and collections for the
construction of a new church. The location selected was on Olive
Avenue and Keystone Street, across the street from the first church.
Construction for the new church started in 1950. The new church’s
architecture was contemporary Romanesque and seated nearly 1,000
people. Its significantly grander appearance was far superior to the
original church. The church was constructed of reinforced concrete
with a steeple rising 102 feet above Olive Avenue and crowned with a
12-foot stainless-steel cross. The interior of the church was much
grander in appearance as well, and gave worshipers a sense of
holiness and awe. The high ceiling and torpedo- shaped light fixtures
focused attention to the altar. The mural that adorns the altar is
titled “Christ the Pantocrator” (Christ the King of the Universe) by
John H. de Rosen, a muralist of the time. It depicts Christ seated on
a throne guarded by St. Michael the Archangel and St. Gabriel. The
church was completed and dedicated in February 1952 by Cardinal McIntyre.
In 1958, Fox West Coast donated a large Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. pipe
organ. The organ was originally housed in the world-famous Grauman’s
Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Since pipe organs were no longer needed
at movie theaters, it became a welcome addition to the church and has
been enjoyed by countless people in its new home.
By the 25th anniversary, the parishioners of St. Finbar had much
to celebrate. Their dedicated efforts, generous contributions and
vision made their dreams become a reality. They went from celebrating
Mass in a small rented hall to having a new church, parish hall,
convent and rectory. The church they constructed was an instant
landmark on Olive Avenue.
* Craig Bullock is the chairman of the Burbank Heritage
Commission. Reach him at email@example.com.