The First Congregational Church of Long Beach, that imposing brick building at the corner of Third Street and Cedar Avenue in Downtown, has been a beacon for the community since it was built in 1914 and hailed as the first of its kind west of the Mississippi.
The Church, which was put on the National List of Historic Places in 2012, is receiving multiple awards after a five-year project which centered around the restoration of the Romanesque Revival-style structure’s east facade and rose window.
Most notable among the Church’s recent accolades is the Governor’s Preservation Award, presented to the Church’s Historic Preservation Committee members this week in Sacramento.
Established in 1986, the Governor’s Historic Preservation Award is California’s only state-sponsored awards program. It seeks to recognize community-centered, often grassroots efforts going on throughout California to preserve our collective heritage.
Renovation of the east facade and rose window began in 2015, when members of the Church’s Historic Preservation Committee noticed problems. Committee member Dorothy King explained: “We could see from the outside that there were cracks in the terra cotta on portions of the rose window. We called in John Fidler, the world-renowned expert preservation specialist, who discovered that the cracks were being caused by corroding steel inside the terra cotta.”
What followed was an intricate labor of love over the next few years by many artisans. “They had to take out the entire rose window,” said King. “They had to call in Structural Engineer Eric Stovner and his team at Critical Structures to remove and reconfigure the window’s entire steel armature, because the building has shifted a little bit and the window was not totally round anymore. Then we had the terra cotta custom re-made, and the restored stained glass was put back in.”
Committee member Cara Varnell praised Giampolini Courtney Masonry Restoration for their terra cotta work. “It’s not just a matter of having the terra cotta re-made,” she told us. “You have to match the color. That is very complicated. They did an amazing job.”
While the armature was being refurbished and brickwork was being done on the east facade, glazer Mike Oades was engaged in the painstaking process of restoring, piece by piece, the rose window’s stained glass. Oades, who works with the glazing company J. Michael Designs, painted new layers of color on the glass, then heated them until they melted in. He applied up to 14 coats to some glass segments.
By 2020, the restored elements of the east rose window were all back in place, and the first phase of the church’s world-class restoration was complete.
Last week, Historic Preservation Committee members met in the Church’s sanctuary with Genesis Jara, Field Representative for Long Beach with Congressman Robert Garcia’s office, who presented them with a certificate to commemorate the Governor’s Preservation Award. “This church means a lot to the Congressman,” said Jara. “He’s super proud of the work that’s being done here.”
Restoration will continue on the building, which is much more than a Church. Currently, the building plays host to the Landmark Community Theater, the free preschool El Mundo, a drop-in center on Sundays for homeless individuals, and DAYS Long Beach, the youth association that has been serving the community since the ’70s.
“We are an important community resource,” said Varnell. “This Church has always been that to the community. Our building plays host to many community service organizations that have nothing to do with religion. Our congregation has paid quite a bit for restoration efforts, but we have to do the north facade next, and we would be grateful to receive some community support from outside this building.”
If you would like to make a donation to the Church’s Building Preservation Fund, please click here. Your contribution will be used exclusively for the ongoing restoration of the First Congregational Church. It will be greatly appreciated by the Church and its many affiliates who serve the Downtown community and beyond.