Reconstruction and Renovation – Epiphany Conservation Trust and the Restoration Effort
An Historic, Centrally Located Landmark
The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany has served the Lincoln Heights and Downtown communities of Los Angeles, California since the original structure was built in 1886. The church sits on the corner of Sichel and Altura Streets, just off the busy intersection of North Broadway and Griffin Avenue. It is about ten minutes by car from the Los Angeles Civic Center in a north-easterly direction and is even closer to Chinatown. Originally one of the earliest suburbs of Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights boasts many century-old houses of great beauty and stature. However, since the mid-twentieth century its residents have been comprised mainly of the working poor, and recent immigrants from Latin America or Asia.
Buildings of Architectural Significance
Designed by Ernest Coxhead, who designed many Episcopal Churches of the period, the 1886 building served as the parish church until 1913, when the cornerstone was laid for a new, larger church designed by Arthur Benton. With the construction of the new church, the original building became the Parish Hall.
Benton employed an intriguing mix of styles, with elements of Gothic revival on the roof and in the stonework. The interior is “Wood Gothic” with high ceilings and majestic wooden pillars. It also boasts a pipe organ designed by Henry Pilcher’s Sons of Louisville, KY. Epiphany still has its original stained-glass windows, though some have been removed for preservation purposes. The “Epiphany” window over the main altar was probably created by Judson Studios of Los Angeles. In a city known for its wanton destruction of older buildings the Church of the Epiphany has survived the worst depredations of “urban renewal.” Epiphany is the oldest functioning church in the Diocese of Los Angeles and is one of the oldest in the entire region.
A Once-Neglected Landmark Reclaims its Heritage
Over the past decades, the Church of the Epiphany has fallen into real disrepair. This is both the result of natural aging and deferred maintenance. What we now face is an acute situation in many areas, which if not addressed, could lead to the demise of the entire structure. A non-profit entity, the Epiphany Conservation Trust, has been established to raise funds for much needed restoration work of the Epiphany buildings. Proceeds to the trust directly fund the building restoration projects.
The first phase, currently underway, encompasses installation of a commercial kitchen, handicapped accessibility upgrades, stone façade repair, structural foundation work, repair of windows and the building envelope, a heating and ventilation system, flooring, and other general repair work.
The second phase of work will focus on the church sanctuary: structural reinforcing, stained glass window restoration, installation of a heating system, restoration of the pipe organ, restoration of the interior woodwork and finishes, and other interior and exterior repair projects.
General restoration is being overseen by Escher GuneWardena Architecture of Los Angeles.
In 2007 an Historic Structure Report was undertaken by M2A Architects, funded by the Getty Conservation Trust, and a full assessment was done of the building. Since then further work has been done by Melvyn Green and Associates, structural engineers; and Griswold Conservation Associates, who assessed the stonework. Mr. Green is the premiere historic preservation structural engineer in the West. Griswold Conservation Associates are specialists in the administration and management of complex art and architectural materials conservation projects. Both are expanding on work they accomplished for the original report. Griswold did a complete examination of the existing stonework in both the Parish Hall and the main Church, and is leading the restoration and stabilization efforts for the existing stone façade.
Stone Wall, Parish Hall and Handicapped Access Ramp
The situation with the stone wall in the Parish Hall (the 1886 original church building) was particularly acute, as erosion of the sandstone base on the north wall caused it to separate from the rest of the building. The re-attachment of the wall was central to the integrity and further renovation of the hall. Its reconstruction has now been completed, as has the handicapped access ramp to the hall and sanctuary. The new kitchen and renovated hall opened for use in September 2013.
Mel Green and Associates also discovered that the Church needs seismic retrofitting: the bolting of the building to its foundation, and the bolting of the roof to the building. Mr. Green has done a multi-phased investigation into the existing site conditions of the Parish Hall and Church and has made recommendations for interventions to stabilize both structures.
Last year, four of the stained glass windows on the south side of the Church were removed and placed in storage in order to prevent their simply falling out. Their removal was funded by the Diocese of Los Angeles. Their restoration and that of the other stained glass is part of our overall budget. They have been temporarily replaced by Plexiglas sheets, decorated with translucent decals. But these are meant to last for only one or two years.
Our Henry Pilcher Pipe Organ was installed in 1916. It was restored in the 1980s, but the job was not thoroughly done. The bellows is ruptured and it needs refurbishment. An appraisal has been done by Manuel Rosales, who installed the pipe organ at the Disney Concert Hall. He puts the cost of restoring the organ to full working condition at $20,000.00.