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L.A.'s stained-glass blessing

A church completes a 75-year project that reflects the city's history and diversity.

September 30, 2007|Paul Pringle | Times Staff Writer

These views of 75 years of Los Angeles history are seen in rose-tinted glass, and violet-tinted and thistle-tinted. And they reflect the unwavering vision of four generations of worshipers and window makers.

Today, St. James' in the City Episcopal Church celebrates this month's installation of its final pair of stained-glass windows, completing a handcrafted set of 28. The project began during the year of the Los Angeles Olympics -- the city's first Olympics.

"That one was put in in 1932," said Emily Maverick, pointing to the large altar window, whose five lancets glowed like embers in the late-afternoon sun. "Times must have been tough because the next one wasn't put in until 1941."

The Great Depression did indeed stall fundraising for the second window, just as subsequent drives were slowed by wars, riots, recessions, dips in the Wilshire Boulevard church's census and a variety of more-pressing parish priorities.

"They're expensive," said Maverick, a retired chemistry teacher who joined St. James' in 1957 and has co-chaired the windows committee for more than two decades. The new windows cost about $75,000 each, up from $6,000 in '32.

"We always had other things to do," Maverick said. "We have three schools, and they needed our support."

Now, however, the long delays seem a blessing. They gave the local family whose company forged all of the windows -- starting with the current proprietor's great-grandfather -- the opportunity to grace the successions of portals with gems from L.A.'s unfolding story, sprinkled in among the biblical scenes and illustrations of saints and martyrs.

Creation, the second clerestory window from the altar of the English Gothic church, depicts a movie camera and the Apollo moonwalk, tributes to two of the region's signature industries. It was unveiled in 1981.

"Over here is a freeway," Maverick said as she walked to the Burial of Christ window, a 1993 installation. It features a rendering of freeway lanes and the downtown skyline. Outside, live weekday traffic churned along Wilshire.

Across the nave is a series of sacrament windows that went in during the 1950s, as is apparent from the "Ozzie and Harriet" hairstyles and clothes of the congregants they portray, not to mention the absence of nonwhite faces.

"They are very '50s looking," said Maverick, examining the images of a mother, father and child in the Marriage window.

A soft-spoken woman with gentle eyes, Maverick climbed the stairs to the rear gallery for a closer look at the latest additions, the Glorification and Ascension windows. She paused at Glorification:

"It's just loaded with history."

Pictured are the Korean flag and that nation's first Korean bishop of the Anglican Church, an acknowledgment of the gradual yet dramatic shifts in the parish's demographics.

Opened in 1927, St. James' sits on the edge of Koreatown. For much of its first 40 years, it was "sort of a society church," said Maverick, meaning that its handsome wooden pews were filled mostly with affluent folks from neighboring Hancock Park. No more.

Its 1,200 members -- the flock has been growing -- are as mixed as L.A. itself, with particularly sizable contingents of Korean and African immigrants. Nat King Cole helped integrate the church in the 1960s, singing at an Easter Mass.

On the opposite side of the gallery, the Ascension window boasts an even more immediate nod to modern L.A. The lower right corner shows a throng of Latino immigrants filing into St. James'.

The inspiration: last year's massive immigration rights march along Wilshire, during which the church invited demonstrators in for water.

"We show in the window scenes our biblical roots, but we also show how they apply to our lives today," said Douglas Seifert, who has co-chaired the committee as long as Maverick. The retired Brooks Brothers salesman has been attending St. James' since 1968.

Like Maverick, Seifert said he never tired of the fund-raising task, even as the years stretched into decades. None of the money came from parish coffers.

"The challenge was to actually come to a final conclusion," Seifert said.

That milestone will be marked today with an evensong celebration.

"The fact that it had gone on so long -- it's exciting," said the Rev. Paul J. Kowalewski, St. James' rector, who has been at the church just two years.

"You're bathed in all those colors," he said of the windows. "There is something mystical about it."

Something ancient as well. The techniques involved in making the windows haven't changed much since the Middle Ages. And for the Judson family, the work has stayed pretty much the same since before the turn of the last century.

"Everything's done by hand," said David Judson, whose great-great-grandfather founded the Judson Studios in 1897.

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