2012 PRESERVATION AWARDS
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles Tower
540 South Commonwealth Avenue, Los Angeles, 90020
Photo by Jose Reyes.
Project Lead: Donald Battjes, Jr., Chair, Board of Trustees, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles
Contractor & Architectural Conservator: California Restoration and Waterproofing
Construction Manager, Finial Replacement: Darryl Wimberly, Pacific Wall Systems
Structural Engineer: Melvyn Green and Associates, Inc.
Stained Glass Restoration: The Judson Studios
Finial & Spire Replication: Moonlight Molds, Inc.
Lighting Contractor: Show Pro
Lighting Designer: First Circle Design
This impressive English Gothic Revival-style building houses the city’s oldest continuous Protestant congregation. Completed in 1932 at the northwest corner of Lafayette Park, it is the fifth building the congregation has occupied since 1867. At its 1932 dedication, the minister remarked of the church, “Rising before you as you come up Sixth Street, it sits across the park like an English cathedral set in the trees.”
Designed by prominent Los Angeles architects Allison & Allison, the massive concrete structure was reinforced with more than 500 tons of steel. Its dominant feature is a tower soaring 157 feet above the street and weighing 30,000 tons. Four, three-ton pinnacles at the corners of the tower rise another nineteen feet, drawing one’s eyes to the heavens.
Supported by more than 150 caissons extending up to forty-five feet into bedrock, the tower stood strong for more than sixty years, until the Northridge earthquake struck in 1994. Three of the four pinnacles cracked and shifted at their bases, teetering even more precariously in an aftershock twelve hours later.
All four pinnacles were removed that day to ensure public safety and prevent them from falling and imploding into the church sanctuary. A balustrade wrapping around the top of the tower was also heavily damaged. To prevent it from falling, the delicate fretwork was sandwiched between sheets of plywood and painted gray to match the concrete.
The tower stayed that way for more than a decade, until a generous bequest from a congregant’s estate enabled its rehabilitation.
With major spalling damage to the concrete as a result of the earthquake, it was questionable whether the tower could support the three-ton weight of each original pinnacle. The project team fabricated new pinnacles made from molds of the originals yet composed of new lightweight material. Each pinnacle was topped with a replica of original three-foot-tall crosses that had deteriorated over the years.
The project team also repaired earthquake damage to the tower’s poured-concrete roof, the delicate concrete balustrades that had been sandwiched in plywood, and missing sections of concrete architectural elements. Deteriorated leaded-glass windows were repaired by the same studio that had originally created them in 1932.
This careful, studied approach ensured both public safety and the preservation of the entire building. The project returned the iconic appearance of a highly visible landmark, reinforcing the congregation’s commitment to the long-term viability of its beloved home.
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles
2012 Preservation Award Recipients
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