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Group Works to Save Church : Holy Rosary Mission Has Historic, Emotional Ties in Temple-Beaudry Area

November 13, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Inside a little faded-yellow church surrounded by dirt lots in Temple-Beaudry, symmetrical lines on the brown tile floor mark where pews once stood. Spiders are now the only visitors to the confessional booths, leaving behind cobwebs in place of sins.

The last Sunday Mass was celebrated at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Mission on Aug. 29, 1993, shortly after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to sell the property on the northwest corner of Colton Street and Beaudry Avenue to the Los Angeles Unified School District for the construction of a new middle school.

Construction is slated to begin in a year. But several former members of the congregation are still unwilling to let go of the church they considered the cornerstone of their once-vibrant neighborhood.

The Committee to Save Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Mission, a fledgling group of 10 current and former area residents, has leased the one-acre property from the school district, using the vacated church building as a community center while trying to raise funds to move the structure to an unspecified site.

"Our first intention is to preserve our heritage," said Luisa Vela, a paralegal who raised her children in the neighborhood during the late 1960s and early 1970s. "We want to preserve the sense of family unity this church gave to the community."

The transformation of the former church into El Rosario Community Center has begun. Vela and the rest of the committee are planning to polish the floor and paint the walls, removing the grayish outlines that mark where stations of the cross hung undisturbed for years.

Through Luisa Padilla, who spent her teen-age years down the street from the church and now directs the nonprofit Concerned Citizens of Echo Park Youth Empowerment Council, they have brought to the community center free English and arts and crafts classes for neighborhood children.

The committee is in the process of looking for a van to take local youngsters on field trips to plays and museums.

The committee has also invited other community groups to use the space for meetings. Several fund-raisers are planned for next month--including a hair-cutting party, rummage sales and a children's Christmas play--to continue to expand activities and help buttress the donations and members' own money that pay the $800 monthly rent.

"We're trying to build the place up," said Padilla, whose teen-age home was demolished long ago for a new development that was never built. "If it becomes well-known as a community center, hopefully we'll be able to attract more help."

Vela, the group's secretary, is looking into grants to pay the cost of moving and preserving the church building, which dates back to the 1920s. So far, the least expensive estimate she has heard for moving the structure is $40,000.

Losing the church to bulldozers, which are scheduled to begin rolling through in late 1995, would be too much to bear for a neighborhood that, over the years, has lost much of its sense of community to demolition in the name of development, little of which has actually taken place, Padilla said.

"All these streets that are now empty were filled with rows of houses," she said. "Everyone was like family around here. The people who lived here were longtime residents. And this church was the heart of the community."

The site on which Our Lady of the Holy Rosary sits is its third, Vela said. Originally constructed by Mexican Catholics who were unable to attend white churches, its first site was near the intersection of Grand Avenue and Temple Street, an area now taken up by the Hollywood Freeway. The church was relocated to a site across Beaudry in 1942 and moved to its present location in 1975 when Bank of America bought its previous site, Vela said. The current land was donated by a parishioner, and relocation costs were covered by the bank.

Although the school district offered relocation money to the archdiocese when it first offered to buy the property for about $2.6 million, the archdiocese declined.

"It didn't make sense," said Neal Blaney, the archdiocese's director of real estate. "First, we didn't have any place to move it to, and it would have been an inefficient use of space and resources. The number of parishioners attending that church was very small."

Those who used to attend church services disagree.

"When it was a religious holiday, it was so crowded you couldn't even enter," said Emma Palma, a former neighbor who lived near the church for 32 years before relocating to Echo Park after her home was demolished for development in the late 1970s.

Vela, who moved to Santa Monica around the same time, remembers coming to the church even after her family left.

"Lots of people who had relocated would come to Sunday Mass here," she said. "It was always crowded."

Although priests no longer visit Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, a handful of former congregation members still gather occasionally for informal prayer meetings. Older members of the community, who Padilla said still consider the building their church, sometimes drop by to meditate.

The committee's lease expires in August, 1995. District officials said they hope that by that time the group will have found a way to relocate the church before the onset of construction.

In the meantime, the committee will keep trying to come up with a new site and the funds it needs, one way or another.

"I still believe in miracles," Palma said wistfully. "We're hoping for one."

Information: (213) 381-7842.

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