The story of our historic Downtown Santa Ana church

The story of our historic Downtown Santa Ana church

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Before 1882 Santa Ana was not an incorporated city and was still part of Los Angeles County, when a small group of early settlers began meeting to form a nucleus of the first Santa Ana Presbyterian Church. There were no paved roads, no gas street lights, no public buildings of any kind—only a few blacksmith shops and a livery stable, a bank, a meeting hall, a general store, a stage coach stop, four churches and private homes for approximately seven hundred residents.

In 1882, Los Angeles presbytery sent the Rev. J. H. Clark to aid the formation of a Presbyterian Church. Regular services began in Temple Hall on Fourth St. between Bush and Spurgeon. On November 19, 1882, First Presbyterian Church of Santa Ana, California was chartered with twenty-eight members and meetings were moved to Spurgeon Hall. The Missionary and Aide Society (later known as the Ladies aid and eventually the Women’s Association) immediately came into being and these 12 women purchased the first plot of ground on the southeast corner of 6th and Sycamore in 1884 for $600. The first church building (see inset) was designed and built for $2500 and dedicated debt free in September 1885 with 45 members. The railroad line came to Santa Ana in 1886 and the City of Santa Ana (now with 2000 residents) was incorporated. The same year with a membership of 136, the Church was removed from the care of the Board of Home Missions.

The original building served for twenty years. Pastors of Stated Supply led the worship services between 1889 and 1905. By 1902 there were 350 church members and a city population had swollen to 5,000. There was a definite need for a new building. Property and building on the southeast corner were traded for 3 lots on the northeast corned for $1500. The second building was completed in 1906 at a constructed at a cost of $70,000. In the early 1900’s the city (now the county seat) flourished with a library, fire station, county court-house , school house and business establishments. The local newspaper reported such things as the establishment by popular vote of saloons in 1903 (after W. C. T. U. reacted to the proposal of a seventh one), the razing of Chinatown at Third and Bush in 1906 after a case of leprosy was rumored, and the fantastic accomplishments of young Glen Martin in 1910 when he flew his first hand-built airplane at what was later Eddie West Field. Glen’s mother was a member of Santa Ana First Presbyterian Church. The membership had grown to over a thousand.

These were the years of our greatest expansion, both city and church wise. That year, 1927, a Christian Education building was built to provide more Sunday school classrooms. It was a plain two-storied frame building south of what was then the Orange County jail (presently the County parking lot just to our immediate north). Much care went into programs for our large groups of children and young people: Junior Church after 9:30 a.m. Sunday School while adults attended worship service: summer camps at Big Bear and Pacific Palisades; choir Camps and a large Youth choir program. In 1932, saw an adult membership of one thousand one hundred and fifteen adult and eight hundred eighty in Sunday school.

In 1933 the earthquake, centered in Long Beach, destroyed the cupolas on the church building and made it necessary to remove some of the ornate trim. (see insert) With growth in membership the facility need to be expanded. There was a need for a social hall, even more office space and Sunday School rooms. During the period from 1933 to 1937, plans were drawn; the old building was gutted to the foundation and a few outer walls, Church services were held in the Broadway Theatre (Fifth and Broadway) This renovation was completed in 1938 at a cost of ninety thousand dollars. The present church building was dedicated on January 30, 1938.

The growth continued for some time but the demographics of Santa Ana were changing. Members were beginning to move to the suburbs and the days of being “the elite” church with many civic leaders, wealthy bankers, important doctors, etc were changing. It was during this time that Santa Ana First Presbyterian Church made the commitment to remain in the downtown community and with vigor and dedication a new program of outreach were initiated. A new contemporary worship service was added. A Hispanic congregation was begun in our facility. Theatrical productions were started, which continue to this day. In 1954-1955 the Christian Education building was completely rebuilt into what stands today, including Calvin Lounge, a chapel and a remodeled kitchen in the old social hall and a new organ. We also purchased the Main St. property between the Santa Ana Hotel and World Travel and in McFarland Hall, our social hall and the home of the Main St. Players was built and dedicated in 1972 at a cost of $362,000.

One more major refurbishment took place during this time period restoring the church to its original 1937 design and adding a gallery between the sanctuary and the Christian Education wing. The project took over three years at a cost of over a million dollars. The architectural beauty and the love that was put into this edifice by those early generations was preserved.

The Past is Prologue—A New Day

This narrative has related our history in terms of buildings, remodeling projects, numbers, and some anecdotes on Old Santa Ana. Whereas we have a long and rich heritage, we also have heart. We revere our seniors, cherish our children, love potlucks and Easter Egg hunts. We support the theatre and the arts, feed the hungry, and help build shelters for the homeless. We welcome diversity, and we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We draw members from as far away as Santa Margarita and Newport Beach. They come for a reason – because God is working through this congregation.

As those before us consciously dedicated themselves to remain in the inner city, so we too have renewed that pledge. We are a downtown, inner city church with inner city opportunities. We will serve here wherever God has called us to do so. We will continue to dedicate our resources and energy to proclaiming God’s Word and being Christ’s ministers to the homeless, the suffering, and the needy.

There is joy here. There is warmth here. There is Christian fellowship here. And there is work for us to do here.