Verdugo Views: The word on St. Mark's history

When Bruce Merritt, a longtime member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, volunteered to research the church’s history in preparation for its 125th anniversary, he didn’t realize that it would turn into a multiyear project.

“I’ve always loved history and when Father Mark (the Very Rev. Canon Mark Weitzel) asked if somebody would do a little exhibit on the church’s history, I volunteered,” Merritt said. “When I discovered that the church had detailed handwritten records all the way back to the 1880s, I got really interested.”

Merritt realized that — beyond the bare facts of the church’s founding and its transition into a large suburban church — was a greater story.

He set out to write not just the story of a small church in a small town, but the greater story of a congregation making its way through the flood of events shaping Southern California since the 1880s.

“The great events — the wars, the migrations, the booms and busts, the cultural and social upheavals — that changed the face of America affected the evolving St. Mark’s community,” he wrote in the preface of his just published book, “St. Mark’s Journey, the Story of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1888 – 1989” chronicling its first 100 years.

The story begins on a warm Sunday morning in August, 1888, in a farm house a few miles north of the small frontier city of Los Angeles.

“A group of men and women have assembled in the home of an English immigrant who has recently settled here. Most of them are English by birth and Church of England by faith,” Merritt wrote.

They were part of a huge migration lured here as land prices soared and new towns were laid out. They soon had a church home and a girl’s school in the former Glendale Hotel, renamed St. Hilda’s Hall.

Fast forward to the 1920s when an even larger boom turned this town into a bustling suburb of 60,000. It was a time of great cultural change throughout America.

“Looking back, the popular image of the decade is one of wild abandon, of flappers, short skirts and bootleg whiskey,” Merritt wrote.

Yet, most of the country was still very conservative and church attendance was rising nationwide. Here in Glendale, huge crowds showed up for the annual Easter sunrise services at Forest Lawn. St. Mark’s also grew, expanding its services, forming new youth and women’s groups and installing an organ.

Contrast that with the mid-1960s, an era of “almost breathtaking change,” as Merritt put it. With the country struggling to become a more equitable and inclusive society, rules were rewritten.

Perhaps the biggest change at St. Mark’s was in the status of women. They were the most regular and active attendees, yet were excluded by the church’s canon from serving in the clergy and from holding office. As societal restrictions loosened, some women pushed for a greater role.

Merritt’s book reveals more about the inside story of the church and its part in this community. It can be ordered from Melwood Press, P.O. Box 412247, Los Angeles, CA 90041 by enclosing a check, payable to Melwood Press, for $42.15, including tax and shipping.

St. Mark’s will celebrate its 125th anniversary on April 27 with a gala reception in the church courtyard following the morning services,

For more information, call (818) 240-3860.

Readers Write:

Your March 13 story on L.C. Brand's custom-made automobile, the Tioga Wolf, came just at the right time. I had been looking at a donation sheet listing the various levels for the Brand Associates fundraising campaign and wondered why the $250 to $499 level was called the “Tioga Wolf Supporter.”

A mystery has been cleared up. I now assume the “Peacock Supporter” level is because there must have been peacocks roaming the grounds?

Carol Brusha

If you have questions, comments or memories to share, please write to Verdugo Views, c/o News-Press, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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