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Followers Seek Safe Ground for Church : Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Mission Faces Wrecking Ball Unless It Is Moved

August 06, 1995|LESLIE BERESTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The clock is ticking louder than ever at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Mission, a tiny yellow stucco church that sits on the future site of an 11-acre middle school campus in Temple-Beaudry.

Ever since the Archdiocese of Los Angeles sold the church property to the Los Angeles Unified School District two years ago for $2.6 million, a handful of former congregation members have been trying to save their beloved church.

Although services are no longer held there, they want to preserve the church as one of the last vestiges of their once-thriving neighborhood, most of which was leveled years ago to make way for construction that never took place.

Last month, the Committee to Save Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Mission purchased the church building from the school district in an auction for $2,700, most of which was donated by Elena Robles, a 70-year-old former parishioner. The school board is expected to approve the sale Monday night.

But ownership does little to further the committee's cause: Appeals to the community for donations of land and labor to move the church off the northwest corner of Colton Street and Beaudry Avenue have yielded little response. If they do not move the church by Nov. 30, it will be demolished.

"We have our goals, but it's getting a little rocky," said Luisa Vela, a committee member and Robles' daughter, who raised her own children down the street from the church before moving to Santa Monica in the late 1970s.

Most of the families who lived in the old wooden houses that once surrounded the church, which dates to the 1920s, were forced to move around that same time, after ambitious commercial developers began razing the neighborhood for construction that the city's real estate market was never able to support.

Today, the church stands alone, surrounded by dirt lots overgrown with weeds. But until the time it closed its doors to worshipers in August, 1993, Vela said, dozens of families who had moved still traveled for miles every Sunday to attend Mass there.

The Archdiocese declined relocation money from the school district when they sold it, citing a lack of attendance. But Vela believes this reasoning was unfounded.

"The reason they gave for closing it is that there was nobody there," she said. "But there \o7 was\f7 somebody there. There still is."

Last year, four core members of the committee and a few other former churchgoers began renting the building from the school district for $800 a month out of their own pockets to keep it open as a community center, offering English and citizenship classes, children's art workshops and live theater. A play presented last spring attracted an audience of more than 200.

Max Terronez, a committee member who has been responsible for the center's theater projects, wants to lobby the school district to incorporate the church building into plans for the new school, possibly for use as a youth theater center since nearby Belmont High School has no theater department.

But he admits that with only four months to go, the chances of this happening are slim. Moving the church appears to be more realistic, but even this goal is becoming difficult to accomplish as time slips by.

So far, one Echo Park contractor has offered to move the building for the nominal fee of $10,000, to be paid in annual installments of $1,000. The only donation of land the committee has come across is a Westlake lot that will be developed for residential use sometime next year.

Although Vela says this might be considered as a temporary last resort, it would mean moving the church twice, something the committee cannot afford.

There is a chance they might be able to obtain a donation of land in Long Beach, Vela said, but some committee members are opposed to taking the church out of the area.

Although time is not on their side, the committee still refuses to give up. Terronez plans to submit a relocation proposal to the city in hopes of enlisting assistance in the search for land, and Vela plans to keep scouting for private donors.

"I think it's all worthwhile," Vela said. "I really think that if we get our brains together, we can succeed."

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