Now, the bell has a chance to ring again--this time prominently in the high tower of the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony recently wrote a letter to the parishioners expressing an "extreme interest" in acquiring the bell for the cathedral, which will be inaugurated in about a year.
But Garcia, 39, along with a few other longtime parishioners and local preservationists, doesn't want to let it go.
"I feel that's the heart of the community," he said. "Right now there's no daily reminder of what is happening in the community."
Father Gabriel Gonzales, the pastor of Sacred Heart, says a decision won't be made until all interested parishioners have expressed their opinions.
On one hand, it would be an honor to hear the bell at the cathedral because it would represent all the 290 parishes in the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Gonzales says.
On the other, Mahony's request has pleasantly revived in the community an effort to raise funds to restore Sacred Heart's steeple.
"I'm sort of between a rock and hard place," Gonzales said. "I can certainly understand the concerns of our parishioners. I'm glad they are raising the kinds of funds for us to be able to reinstall the steeple."
Indeed, a steering committee of about a dozen people--a mixture of longtime parishioners and local architecture conservationists--was formed a few days ago to try to raise money.
"The preservation of [the bell] is what will maintain the historical integrity," said Michael Diaz, co-chairman of the Lincoln Heights Preservation Assn. and member of the steering committee. "This little building is the main historic structure in the neighborhood."
Bell Dates to 19th Century
The Gothic-style church on Sichel Street was finished by the mid-1890s. The bell installed was cast in 1895 in a Baltimore foundry. German, French and Italian immigrants were among those who made up the congregation.
Through the decades the steeple, which rose 50 feet above the church, was a landmark that could be seen from downtown.
The bell's peals were reliable reminders of the time of day. It rang without failure at noon and 6 p.m. It announced happy celebrations and somber moments.
"It brings a lot of memories," said Jose Garcia, 78, father of Oscar Garcia. "Even when President Kennedy was killed, the bell rang especially for him."
The bell and steeple were brought down sometime after the San Fernando earthquake of 1971.
"Believe me, it was like gutting the heart out of the community," said Oscar Garcia.
Over the years there was talk in the congregation about raising money to restore the steeple. But nothing materialized.
Meanwhile, during his visits to Sacred Heart, Mahony had noticed the 4-foot-tall bell sitting under a shady tree and hinted at his interest in it.
In May, he sent a letter.
"Since time is going by very rapidly now," the letter read, "it would be useful to know if we would be able to acquire your Sacred Heart bell to be used in the cathedral campanile, where once again it would actually be heard, not just looked at."
Not coincidentally, the bell is tuned to the note E and would complement the D and F bells that were salvaged from the old St. Vibiana's Cathedral. A fourth bell would complete the set to be installed in the cathedral's main tower.
Mahony appealed further by pointing out that if the bell were rung downtown, it might be heard at Sacred Heart, about five miles away.
"It would be a great honor and privilege to have your bell included with the original set of bells," Mahony wrote.
When Gonzales read the letter to parishioners on a recent Sunday, many thought it would indeed be an honor.
Britney Gallegos, an eighth-grader at the church's elementary school, wrote a letter to the pastor.
"I've been coming to Sacred Heart for eight years now," she said. "I think the bell would be better off being used than sitting there aging."
But the steering committee says the bell belongs in the community.
"I feel that it's part of the church. It's not an entity by itself," said Henrietta Villaescusa, 80, who attended the church's elementary school. "You wouldn't move the altar someplace else."
"The bell has been passed on for at least five generations of parishioners to be cherished as part of the history of the parish and the larger community of Lincoln Heights," Richard McCarthy, a church member, wrote to Mahony.
Group Opposes Compromise
The group intends to set up a table at the church's steps and collect signatures. It plans to start a fund-raising campaign for what could be an expensive effort to restore the steeple.
Gonzales proposed a possible compromise: lending the bell to the cathedral until Sacred Heart's steeple is ready to house it.
But the steering committee would rather not risk losing it.
"Once they have their hands on the bell, they will never bring it back," Villaescusa said.
Gonzales said he will hold a meeting to discuss the issue.
The archdiocese needs a decision in the near future because the bells need to be cleaned and installed, said spokesman Tod Tamberg.
But the decision ultimately belongs to the congregation.
"The cardinal thinks that it would be a wonderful honor for the church," he said. "This is not a requisition."