St. Martha’s Episcopal Church | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Alan Hess

St. Martha’s Episcopal Church

The West Covina City Council voted 4-1 on December 17, 2013 to certify the Lark Ellen Residential Project, a 5.7 acre residential community project by developer Warmington Residential that called for the demolition of the historically significant St. Martha’s Episcopal Church. The Mid-Century Modern church building was demolished in April 2014.

The city did not evaluate the project through an environmental impact report (EIR), but instead released a mitigated negative declaration (MND) in September 2013 which concluded that St. Martha’s was not a historic resource, despite compelling information submitted into the record by the Conservancy and others that established the church’s historical significance and warranted preparation of an EIR.

Developer Warmington Residential announced plans for the Lark Ellen Residential Project, a residential community of 45 single-family homes, in April, 2013. The project will be constructed on a 5.7 acre property which includes the parcel on which St. Martha’s Church is located.

The West Covina City Council certified the project in December, 2013 following a recommendation made by the Planning Commission. The environmental review for the project, a mitigated negative declaration (MND), had been released in September, 2013.

The expansive triangular-shaped project area, which is slated to become a gated community, is bounded by Lark Ellen Avenue on the west, the Walnut Creek wash on the north, and a row of residential properties along Larkwood Street on the south.

Although the project’s size would have allowed opportunities for preservation alternatives that could have incorporated an adaptively reused St. Martha’s Church as a community center or other use as part of the planned residential community, the city of West Covina did not recognize St. Martha’s as a historic resource. Consequently, the city evaluated the project through a type of environmental review known as a mitigated negative declaration, which does not include preservation alternatives.

Despite overwhelming and compelling evidence attesting to St. Martha’s historical significance, the MND’s Cultural Resource Report determined the church to be ineligible as a historic resource on local, state, and national levels. The deeply flawed evaluation of St. Martha’s lacked thorough research and contextual analysis and contained unsupported conclusions.

The Conservancy, along with local residents and author and historian Alan Hess, submitted comments on the MND in October 2013, providing information establishing the church’s historical significance and urging the city to reject the MND and prepare an environmental impact report (EIR).

The Conservancy testified before the West Covina Planning Commission at their October 22, 2013 meeting and outlined our concerns, yet the Commission voted 4-0 to recommend approval of the project, which was ultimately certified by the City Council in December, 2013.

  • St. Martha’s is significant as an example of postwar modern church design in the city of West Covina that reflects a national context of modern design utilized for houses of worship.
  • Carleton Winslow, Jr. was a skilled local architect who specialized in ecclesiastical design.  He was also a proponent of modern design for houses of worship.
  • His design for St. Martha’s received national exposure:  it was profiled in the leading architecture journal Architectural Record and was subsequently selected as one of 35 outstanding churches and synagogues from throughout the world profiled in the 1957 publication Religious Buildings for Today.
  • The Mitigated Negative Declaration’s (MND) conclusion that the project will have “no impact” on historical resources was based on a deeply flawed Cultural Resource Report lacking thorough research and contextual analysis and containing unsupported conclusions.
  • If substantial and compelling evidence is submitted into the record that a structure may qualify as a historic resource (the fair argument), it does not suffice for the lead agency to opt not to prepare an EIR simply because the retained consultant’s findings are contradictory.
  • The Conservancy believed there was ample opportunity for development on the site while retaining and adaptively reusing the former St. Martha’s Church.
  • We urged the city to do the right thing, reject the MND and require the preparation of an EIR for this project, as clearly mandated under CEQA.