September 17, 2018

Photo Essay: How A Metaphysical Religious Sect Brought a Glimpse of DC to LA

Los Angeles has played itself in countless film and TV productions—but it's also stood in for the Outback, Africa, Korea, the Sherwood Forest, the Minnesota prairie, and the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana.

But there's one building in Los Angeles that's most frequently scouted for its ability to portray our nation's capital: The Art of Living Foundation's headquarters in the West Adams district.

The Art of Living has been hosting yoga sessions, meditations, and other classes here since 2010—but this neoclassical monument was built to house the Second Church of Christ Scientist.

The First Church, a.k.a. the "Mother Church," of this metaphysical religious movement had already been built in Boston in 1906. This Second Church's construction began the following year and completed in 1910.

It's not unusual to see Classical Revival or Italian Renaissance edifices in the United States, especially those built around the turn of the 20th century.

You just don't usually see anything in Southern California that remotely resembles the Parthenon from Ancient Greece (or the Pantheon from Ancient Rome, for that matter).

The portico (or porch) of this rare 20th century example in LA is Corinthian, the highest of the orders of classical architecture—featuring glazed terracotta, brick cladding, tapered columns, and highly ornamented capitals. With a touch of Beaux Arts in the details, it brings forth the spirit of those ancient temples by way of France.

Beyond it, look down to see original flooring made out of hexagonal tiles and a geometric rendering of the "running dog" motif so commonly found in classical architecture.

Look straight ahead or up, and you'll find columns in the Ionic Order, a step down from Corinthian but still not the lowest order.

Gaze even higher and you'll catch a peek at the first of many stained glass windows that are surprisingly bereft of ecclesiastical imagery.

In fact, you won't find any iconography of Christ or scientists throughout the church interior—not even in the sanctuary, under the 1400-ton copper dome that stretches 70 feet across.

It's the highest point of the church—and the first (and really only) thing you see as you ascend one of the two staircases and emerge into what's now used as more of an auditorium.

Though it was built to seat around 1100 worshipers, many of the pews have been removed to make room for those attendees who might lie on the (poured concrete, though carpeted) floor to meditate under the rotunda.

The architecture was designed by Alfred F. Rosenheim, known more for his commercial buildings as well as the mansion in American Horror Story.

He also designed the opalescent stained glass windows, which have been restored after vandals knocked a couple of them out.

They cast a purplish hue under the dome—again, more regal than religious. And they depict architectural elements (again, the Corinthian columns) rather than biblical scenes.

You almost feel like you're in a federal or municipal building—a courthouse or a city hall—rather than a place of worship (or even spirituality). But there are organ pipes hiding behind a grille, if you know where to look.

And perhaps here, God is in the details.

The gold leaf, pastel color scheme, and original chandeliers sure are pretty.

And the recurring architectural patterns continue throughout the building, not just in its crown jewel (under the dome).

Incredible attention to detail was given to railings, woodwork, and lighting fixtures.

And a shocking amount of that has been either preserved or recreated.

The first time I spotted The Art of Living temple, it was the middle of the night, and I was in West Adams to witness the relocation of a Victorian cottage to its new lot, eight blocks away. I stood there in awe.

I thought I'd been transported to the New York Supreme Court building in Lower Manhattan. Or Federal Hall. Or the New York Stock Exchange.

But it turned out to be yet another facet of Los Angeles history, architecture, and culture that had chosen to reveal itself to me.

And this time, it only took me three years to figure out a way inside so I could go explore.

Who needs DC... or NY... or Boston... when you've got LA?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The First Cathedral of the Colonies
Photo Essay: An Ancient Roman Country Malibu?

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