April 30, 2020

The 40-Year Saga of Building a Cathedral for San Diego's First Protestant Congregation

It may not be the kind of cathedral you might expect when visiting, say, St. Paul's in London...

...but St. Paul's Cathedral Episcopal in the Bankers Hill section of San Diego is a gem of its own kind.

Now located just outside the western boundary of Balboa Park, St. Paul's is one of the oldest institutions in San Diego—not just religious, but also cultural.

It's been providing religious services for over 150 years now—having taken the name "St. Paul's" in 1885, with beginnings that go as far back as 1853 (when its congregation met in Old Town San Diego, the first Protestant church to do so in the area).

Designed by architect Philip Hubert Frohman, its 6th Street campus was constructed over the course of more than two decades. The Parish House and its auditorium (now the "Great Hall") were completed in 1929—right around the time of the stock market crash hat kicked off the Great Depression. That meant that for the rest of it, groundbreaking wouldn't occur until 1950, when wartime labor and material shortages would no longer be an issue. The entire complex wasn't completed until 1966 (and not even really then, either).

While Frohman was considered a master of Gothic architecture—and originally intended the structure to be made of stone, like the great cathedrals of Europe—postwar budget cuts gave it a poured concrete, Spanish Colonial Revival façade.

Among Frohman's expertise, you could also count two major components of St. Paul's Cathedral—stained glass and church organs.

The organ at St. Paul's is an Æolian-Skinner opus 1495 circa 1969 that encompasses part of the city's first organ, built in 1887 and moved to its Bankers Hill in the 1950s.

It was expanded several times with additional ranks and keyboards, and the console was rebuilt in 2000, with a complete organ rebuild by Quimby Pipe Organs in 2012. It now contains 86 ranks and 4,933 pipes.

Even the stained glass windows took more than a decade to complete. Judson Studios was first commissioned the work in 1951 and completed in 1967.

Many of the windows, however, are dated 1956.

The scenes depicted in the windows are stripped straight from the fifth book of the New Testament, The Acts of the Apostles.

Among the scenes included are Acts 13: 6-12 (the sorcerer or "false prophet"), Acts 14:19 (Paul stoned by opponents), Acts 16: 23-25 (Paul and Silas flogged and imprisoned), and Acts 17:15-34 (Altar to the Unknown God).

Both sides of the nave are completely covered in stained glass windows...

...and the results are dizzying.

I've spent a lot of my life staring at stained glass...

...and these just blew me away.

You'd think I'd get used to the work of Judson Studios by now, after having taken their studio tour several times and stalked their work at various landmarks around Southern California.

But I never tire of it. Every time is like the first time.

And while I don't ascribe the mysteries of life to miracles or the presence of any particular god or gods...

...I can see the power that these images have over people.

I can see how they can keep you inside a church (or temple), rather than running out the back door early like I usually do.

But that's one of my issues with attending any mass or service, anyway—I've got to sit in a pew instead of getting up close to the stained glass, mosaics, and other art that drew me inside in the first place.

The Rose Window, in particular, deserves some extra attention—otherwise you'd never see how it spells out that Christ is the "King of Glory" and the "Everlasting Son of the Father."

Each of the "petals" on that window depicts a different saint, too, from St. Edmund the Martyr of East Anglia, St. Gabriel, St. Edward the Confessor, and St. Alban (the British "promartyr")... St. Anthony, St. Christopher, St. George, Ste. Margaret, Bishops of Worcester St. Dunstan and St. Wulfstan, and Bede the Venerable.

With all those British martyrs and saints, it's no surprise that St. Paul's is an Episcopal/Anglican cathedral—but it's also embraced Lutheran, Methodist, Roman Catholic, and even Jewish traditions, at one time even having a Rabbi-in-Residence. (And the church's dean is a woman.)

I'm glad I got to see it on a self-guided tour instead of by attending services. I got to really take a good, long, hard look at it—and appreciate what I saw.

Related Posts:

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April 28, 2020

Photo Essay: A Close Encounter of the 'Jet Age' Kind at LAX

No matter which gate or terminal your airline directs your arriving flight to at LAX, there's something you're sure to see—the Theme Building.

circa 2019

It's at the center of it all at LAX—hovering like a space ship while all the rental car and hotel shuttles and taxis and rideshares encircle it on World Way, bobbing and weaving around the parking structures and the ill-marked exits that simply have you return to the airport instead of heading to your destination.

circa 2019

Situated on an island of sorts between West Way and East Way, the Theme Building is the kind of beacon—day or night—that makes you say "What the heck is that?" and then become obsessed with it. I don't think that's just me. I think it's pretty much everybody.

circa 2019

Completed in 1961 as a joint venture between architects Charles Luckman, William Pereira, Welton Becket, and Paul Revere Williams (though some say Williams has been given more credit than he deserves on this particular project), the "new terminal facilities" were dedicated by none other than Lyndon B. Johnson, the sitting Vice President of the United States at the time (and future POTUS 1963-9).

circa 2019

And the Theme Building was an essential part of the plan to bring LA's international airport into the "Jet Age" with state-of-the-art facilities and a futuristic, Googie vibe.

circa 2019

LAX had come a long way from its first iteration as Mines Field—a mere landing strip built in the late 1920s out of a clearing in the bean and barley fields of the former Mexican land grant, Rancho Aguaje de la Centinela.

circa 2019

And in keeping up with the new jet set, there was no telling what new heights this flight facility could reach.

circa 2019

Also known as the "Theme-and-Arch Building," the LAX spaceship (whose initial design is credited to draftsman James Langenheim of the Pereira-Luckman firm) ultimately became nothing more than a symbolic center of the airport—and not a functional one.

circa 2019

In fact, it's kind of hard to get to on foot, especially with luggage in tow. And there's not much reason to go there if you're not flying in or out of LAX.

circa 2019

There used to be, however, an exception—the circular Encounter Restaurant and Bar.

circa 2019

Encounter closed permanently in December 2013, but its signage persists on the tiled wall outside the (now locked) glass entry doors...

circa 2019

...and outside the elevator that would take you to the top while playing some Star Trek theme-inspired soundtrack (or a copycat version thereof, listen at the bottom of this post).

circa 2015

Standing under those stuccoed arches, encircling the flying saucer like the rings of Saturn, visiting is truly an "out of this world" experience.

circa 2010

I had the foresight to go out of my way to get up in there back in October 2010. Although Encounter had originally opened in 1997, the building itself later needed renovations in 1999 and seismic retrofitting and other structural reinforcements in 2007. It didn't reopen until July 2010.

circa 2010

I was living in NYC at the time but had ramped up my West Coast visits in anticipation of moving here. And after flying back and forth so many times over the course of that year, I just had to visit that UFO-shaped restaurant suspended in the air.

circa 2010

The Jetsons-like interior was accented by the spaceship's exterior lighting design—contributed by Michael Valentino of Disney Imagineering, circa 2000. The lava lamps on the crater-shaped bar were a bit much, as were the laser-beam bar guns and alien beer taps. And the themed menus—except the one for "junior space cadets"—offered cocktails like "The Black Hole" and the "Bossa Supernova."

circa 2010

And at the time, I didn't appreciate that much of the spacey-chic I was witnessing was the work of other Disney imagineers, too—like Eddie Sotto (who designed the textured walls to look like the moon's surface) and Ellen Guevara (who worked with Sotto on the flowing carpet patterns).

But oh, what I wouldn't give to ride that elevator again—and listen to that kooky sci-fi music—and get a good look at all the crazy design elements inside—and watch all the planes taking off and landing on the runways outside.

Encounter website circa 2007 (Screenshot via Internet Archive)

I did actually dine at Encounter one more time—that same year, in fact, when I'd returned to LA to interview for the job that ultimately moved me here. I was staying at a hotel near LAX and my future boss met me at the airport for dinner.

Considering the business nature of our meeting, I didn't get the chance to take any nighttime photos of the Theme Building or its restaurant. But to be honest, I was so obsessed with collecting new experiences from 2010 to 2014 that I didn't really feel the need to go back. I thought I'd been there and done that.

In fact, it didn't occur to me to go back to Encounter ever again—until it was too late.

Nothing has replaced the Encounter Restaurant in the Theme Building, although there's been talk of how it might be reimagined—especially with the success of the newly reopened (and preserved) TWA terminal at JFK. The observation deck is even closed. The only signs of life are the Bob Hope USO operations on the ground level.

So what could be next?

If I had endless amounts of money, I'd try to open a tiki bar there. I'd probably even keep the space theme. Outer space and underwater are strikingly similar sometimes.

Aesthetically, there's not a huge difference between the the bottom of the sea and the surface of the moon.

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April 26, 2020

A Tropical Escape In a Time of Adversity: Mission Tiki Drive-In (Updated for 2023—Closed)

[Last updated 1/23/23 8:41 PM PT—Mission Tiki Drive-In's last day of operation was Sunday, January 22, 2023. The swap meet remains open for one additional weekend.]

In one form or another, Mission Tiki Drive-In was owned and operated by De Anza Land and Leisure Corporation since it first opened as the "Mission Drive-In" in 1956. The 9-acre, single screen drive-in was the brainchild of William Oldknow, whose daughter Teri rebranded it with a tiki theme in 2006.

But that all changed last year, when Mission Tiki was sold to a developer to turn it into a "technology park."

The initial announcement declared the drive-in theater would only operate until around Christmastime 2019. (Fortunately, SoCal weather makes the drive-in a year-round attraction.) But then at the end of last year, the drive-in announced it would stay open through Summer 2020.

And then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Public assembly of groups of any size—beyond members of the same household—were forbidden. All theaters closed—from movies to the opera to all of Broadway.

But there's one place in SoCal you can still catch a movie, without catching the virus—Mission Tiki Drive-In.

It took a major health crisis—and a dearth of other options—to get me to drive the 40 miles out east to cross the place off my bucket list. I'm glad it did—and I hope others follow suit.

When The Mission Drive-In first opened, it was in what was then known as the Monte Vista tract—the far outskirts of any major city, surrounded by orange groves). Monte Vista incorporated as a city that same year, but it was renamed Montclair in 1958.

An open-air market (a.k.a. swap meet) was aded to its daytime operations in the 1960s. In 1975, the original screen was demolished and the drive-in theater was multiplexed. Now expanded to 27 acres, it shows double features of first-run movies on 4 screens, 7 days a week.

It wasn't until 2006—upon its 50th anniversary—that the Mission Drive-In became the Mission Tiki Drive-In, thanks to creative input from tiki artist Tiki Diablo.

Besides adding an Easter Island-type Moai statue garden, Tiki Diablo redesigned the ticket boots with tiki masks and thatches roofs.

The snack bar and restroom building were redone as well...

...while keeping some of its original 1950s flavor.

After all, drive-in movies weren't just for the high school greasers, girl gangs, and poodle-skirted goodie-goodies you'd find at the car hops and sock hops alike.

In terms of the historical timeline, the drive-in craze more or less coincided with the tiki craze. They pretty much emerged, peaked, and waned at the same time. I can't imagine a more perfect union.

And I can't believe I'd never gone before (though I had suffered through hot, humid, mosquito-ridden nights in the back of my father's car, windows rolled down and no A/C at a drive-in or two in Central New York as a kid).

The 2006 rebranding and renovation also phased out the window-mounted car speakers in favor of broadcasting sound on the FM dial. The year 2013 brought the arrival of a digital projection system to replace the four film reel projectors.

The night we decided to get in our separate cars and give Mission Tiki a try, we caught a rare revival of Raiders of the Lost Ark (in a double feature with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which started and would end too late for us to stay on a Thursday night).

An adventure film—even one that takes place in Nepal and Egypt and not the South Seas—seemed terribly appropriate at a tiki-themed drive-in, during balmy weather.

And I thought that this drive-in could singlehandedly get a lot of people—unpaired individuals like me, and families too—through a potentially protracted period of time when there's nothing else we can do to distract ourselves.

Obviously, Mission Tiki had given up on itself when it sold, but the world was an entirely different place just a few months ago.

Is there any chance of saving it now? And if not in the long term, maybe just for a couple more years?

Movies thrived during the Great Depression, when people had no disposable income but found a way to scrounge up enough money for a ticket—just to get a laugh or be transported from the current day's hard time to somewhere, anywhere else.

At some point, masses of people are going to tire of watching TV and movies at home and will be desperate to go out.

And who knows when we'll be able to cram our germy bodies back into mall-based multiplexes again?

During all of this, I feel pretty much safer in my car than I do anywhere else outside my apartment. I can't be alone in that.

So, could this be the opportunity for others—maybe those who didn't grow up going to the drive-in, like I did—to discover the beauty and utter joy of watching a movie under the stars?

Someone started a petition to keep Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair last year. As of today it's got nearly 9,000 signatures (including mine). I don't know whether the horse has already left the barn, so to speak—but to add your signature and follow updates, see the petition here.

Update 1/23/23: Despite all efforts to save it, Mission Tiki Drive-In has finally closed for good—and we're back to going to the mall and movies as though nothing ever happened.

Here's the episode Huell Howser devoted to Mission Tiki Drive-In in its entirety:

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