July 05, 2024

Photo Essay: Immanuel Presbyterian, the French Gothic Cathedral in L.A.'s Koreatown

On a busy stretch of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, right in the middle of the diverse community of Koreatown...

...stands a church whose design was inspired by 15th-century gothic cathedrals in France. 

It's Immanuel Presbyterian Church, built in 1929 (and not, say, the Middle Ages).

Architect (and good Presbyterian himself) Chauncey Fitch Skilling incorporated medieval imagery into the stone exterior, like a knight's shield...

...and other symbols of heraldry, like coats of arms.

Inside the church's cloister (a skylit hallway that leads to its various chapels, community rooms, and offices), a circa 1891 bell from Immanuel's first church building at 10th (now Olympic) and Figueroa Streets stands on display. 

One of the main draws for non-parishioners to come visit the church is the main sanctuary, whose altar and circa 1927 pipe organ (Skinner Organ Co. Opus 676) were famously shown in the music video for the song "Helena" by My Chemical Romance.

According to our tour guide, visitors complained when there were no red banners to be found, so the church put them back up.

Compared to what's in the music video, you can see in person how the front row of seats (which are surprisingly like theatre seats for a church) was removed at some point. That allowed for some extra room to accommodate stage equipment like monitor speakers—and maybe a mosh pit, too?—when there are live concerts, which have been performed by musical acts like Hozier, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Snow Patrol.

An in-person visit also allows for closer examination of the sanctuary's ecclesiastical stained glass windows Dixon Art Glass Company of Los Angeles, like the Rose Window and the Nativity Window above the choir loft...
...and "Jesus and the Children" in the east balcony transcept.

Although the main sanctuary was built to seat 2000 members of the congregation, it actually wasn't enough at the church's peak—so there are additional worship spaces within the main building, including the Chichester Chapel, named after Immanuel Presbyterian co-founder Dr. William J. Chichester. 

It functions as a kind of "Mini Me" to the sanctuary—although this chapel features a circa 1977 Gerhard Hradetzky pipe organ (a.k.a. the Clarence Mader Memorial Organ, a tracker action instrument). 

The seats are more traditional pew bunches, while the tiled floors are similar to those in the sanctuary. 

The Chichester Chapel's traditional stained glass windows depict famous biblical scenes like "The Woman of Samaria" (John 4:14, an event sometimes referred to as "The Woman at the Well")...

..."Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler" (Luke 18:22)...

...and "Christ at the Seashore" (Matthew 4:19, the "fishers of men" passage).

In a different style—though lacking a maker's mark—is a leaded window depicting Revelation 3:20 ("Behold, I stand at the door and knock").
One of the key features of Immanuel Presbyterian is the addition of other spaces besides those used for worship—including a basement gymnasium (unfortunately closed for repairs) and the Parish Hall.

With opalescent glass windows and a stenciled ceiling...'s been home to community group meetings, youth theatre performances, and sometimes even film shoots (like Sister Act 2, whose "Oh Happy Day" scene was shot here).

The most contemporary space at Immanuel Presbyterian is the Westminster Chapel, which features a circa 1956 three-manual Schlicker pipe organ (the first of its kind to be installed in Southern California). 

A 1958 renovation brought in faceted glass windows (also known as "slab glass," "chunk glass," and dalle de verre) by Willet Windows (a.k.a. Willet Studios and, later, Willet Hauser Architectural Glass, Inc.). 
Willet was also responsible for the Hall of Science built for the 1965-65 World's Fair in New York's Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which is made nearly entirely out of faceted glass.

Westminster Chapel has also been used for concerts—and in 2020, the church converted the space into a food pantry to help feed the hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic, even removing the pews

I know some people may think, "Eh, seen one church, seen 'em all..." but I find something really different and interesting in each one I visit. 

This one had been on my list for a while—I'll admit, because of My Chemical Romance—but now after taking a tour, I'm excited to go back and witness a service or maybe listen to a concert.
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