Church of the Epiphany | Los Angeles Conservancy
Image courtesy City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources

Church of the Epiphany

Founded in 1887, the Church of the Epiphany is the oldest sustaining Episcopal congregation in Los Angeles. The church was originally designed in the Romanesque Revival style by English architect Ernest Coxhead, who was known for his ecclesiastical work. 

By 1913, the congregation had outgrown the existing structure, and construction commenced on a new sanctuary building. The existing church was converted to the parish hall and incorporated into the new building. Architect Arthur Benton, celebrated for his work on Riverside’s Mission Inn, designed the new church in a mix of styles, including Gothic Revival, Mission Revival, and Romanesque Revival. 

Since the late 19th century, the Church of the Epiphany has borne witness to the transformation of Lincoln Heights from an Anglo suburb into a community of Mexican immigrants and Chicanxs. It reflects not only the rich architectural heritage of its neighborhood, but also deeply important social and political developments in the latter half of the 20th century.

The Church of the Epiphany was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2005. Shortly thereafter, community members formed the Epiphany Conservation Trust to raise money to fund a much-needed rehabilitation and to preserve the church’s social and cultural legacy. 

 

The 1913 addition to the Church of the Epiphany greatly expanded its architectural character. Arthur Benton incorporated a medley of styles, including dramatic Gothic roof elements, stonework, and stained-glass windows. The sanctuary featured a grand pipe organ designed by Henry Pilcher’s Sons of Louisville, KY. 

As the demographics of the neighborhood shifted around World War II, the Church of the Epiphany found itself at the center of racial tensions and community organizing. Though the community had become largely Mexican and Mexican American, discrimination was widespread. 

Labor leader Cesar Chavez, who worked out of nearby Boyle Heights for several years, was among the noted figures who gave speeches in the hall.  

In the 1960s, the Church of the Epiphany became a hub for the burgeoning Chicano Civil Rights Movement. Eastside activists came together to organize around Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968. That same year, youth leaders met at the church to plan the East L.A. High School Walkouts, a widespread protest against educational and social inequality. Similarly, the church was the backdrop to early discussions surrounding the 1970 Chicano Moratorium. For a period of time, its basement even housed production for La Raza, a major publication of the Chicano Movement. 

The church’s leadership fostered and encouraged the Eastside youth movement through a number of special programs, including Barrio Union Scholastic for Community Action and Young Chicanos for Community Action. Among the young figures that the church mentored were future Assemblyman Richard Alatorre, Sal Castro (an educator who was pivotal during the Walkouts), and David Sanchez (founder of the Brown Berets). 

The Church of the Epiphany’s activism continued in the 1970s and ‘80s with a number of anti-poverty and anti-gang violence programs, including aiding in the founding of the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO). The church also played a key role in aiding in the resettlement of Central American refugees who had fled the wars. 

Photo courtesy Spectra Company

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