Sichel Street Church Of Christ
March 6, 1910
Excerpt From Search For The Ancient Order, Volume 3
It began in this manner in Los Angeles in 1874 when G. W. Linton and wife and W. J. A. Smith and wife canvassed the city to find twenty-three church members who were willing to assemble regularly. While they held their first services in the County Court House that October, it was not until February 1875 that they "covenanted together" to form a church. (James L. Lovell, History of The Churches of Christ in California (Privately published, 1959), 3, 4; E. B. Ware, History of The Disciples of Christ in California (Healdsburg, Calif., 1916), 25.) The arrival of B. F. Coulter in 1877, however, proved to be the greatest blessing yet to the struggling group.
Coulter possessed the essential qualities then needed—leadership ability, financial capacity and a genuine commitment to New Testament Christianity. Born in Todd County, Kentucky, August 9, 1832, Coulter had preached in schoolhouses on Sundays while attending to his business interests during the week. Soon after arriving in California, he established the Coulter Dry Goods Company and soon became wealthy. He gave a lot to the church in 1882 on which was erected the Temple Street Christian Church. Until 1890 when Smithers arrived, the church was conservative, but under his leadership moved toward the liberalism of the Disciples. Coulter was tolerant of Smither's liberalism, so in 1895 he provided the funds for the establishment of the Broadway Christian Church, which, by 1911, became the largest Disciple Church on the Pacific coast, even though Coulter's conservative viewpoints kept the church from cooperating with missionary boards. Coulter's death, therefore, on October 9, 1911, removed from the Disciples a strong conservative. (Dr. A. P. Davis, "B. F. Coulter," Christian Leader And The Way, XXV (Oct. 17,1911), 9.)
As the Los Angeles Disciple Church grew more liberal in the 1890's, the leaven of discontent worked briskly. Although Michael Sanders, also a wealthy man, joined with Coulter in establishing the Broadway Church, it was evident that Sanders' conservative views extended beyond those of Coulter and by 1898, Sanders withdrew from the Disciples to provide the churches of Christ with vital leadership for more than a decade.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1843, Sanders moved to Iowa early in his life and taught school and farmed. After he married Malinda M. McDonald and two children were born to them, they moved to Kansas where he invested profitably in business. During the Civil War, he was in the Union army and lost a leg in the Battle of Vicksburg. Like so many veterans in later years he became convinced that war and politics were wrong for Christians. After coming to California, he proved to be a good businessman and a dedicated Christian. When he died September 23, 1915, a Los Angeles newspaper said his estate was valued at $100,000, one-third of which was "bequeathed to the church of Christ for sick and needy members." (62"Cheerful Messages," Gospel Advocate, LVII (Oct. 21, 1915), 1060.) His greatest achievement, however, was in securing Gideon W. Riggs' consent to spend his life in southern California. (G.W. Riggs, "Michael Sanders," Gospel Advocate, LVII (Nov. 13, 1915), 1155, 6.)
I attended a Methodist Sunday School until I was about fifteen and received religious instruction which impressed me no little. When I was thirteen years old, I went to the Mourners' Bench during a protracted meeting day and night for about a week before I could not get the miraculous baptism of the Holy Spirit which some claimed to get but I joined the church anyway but some tenants on the farm soon convinced me Mourners' Bench style of religion was unscriptural. (Clara M. Duggan and Helen K. Duggan, More About the Riggs Family: 1590-1973 (Nashville, 1974), 147. Quoted in Bruce Bradberry, "The Church of Christ in Southern California" (M. A. Thesis, Pepperdine University, 1976), 11; Hugh Tiner, "California Pioneer Gospel Preacher Passes Away," Firm Foundation, LXVIII (Apr. 8, 1982), 3, 4.)
Riggs was a student at the Nashville Bible School when Sanders appeared there in 1900 to look for a prospective preacher who would spend his life in Los Angeles. Riggs inquired what kind of a place California was for a preacher and Sanders responded that preaching was badly needed but the pay would be poor. When Riggs responded that he was not looking for pay, Sanders was impressed and invited him to the Pacific Coast.
Riggs, then, caught the missionary fever and planned for the West. However, other details had to come first, such as graduating from the Bible School and getting married. The former he did in 1902 and the latter, August 11, 1903, at Hill's Chapel, near Nolensville, Tennessee, with J. N. Armstrong performing the ceremony. After an evangelistic effort at Riggs' Crossroads, his home congregation, Riggs planned his departure for the West in October. ("Miscellany," Gospel Advocate, XLV (Aug. 27, 1903), 549.)
Riggs would eventually arrive in Los Angeles, but first he would initiate his new tent with an evangelistic meeting in Arizona. In Phoenix there were no visible results but in Cartwright, where he spoke for one month, there were five additions and the establishment of a congregation. In Camp Verde, also, there were five additions but in Tempe, Riggs decided the meeting was an "utter failure" since nobody attended. He was ready now to test his talents in California.
Los Angeles would still wait until Riggs worked other areas on the way. He preached to small audiences in Long Beach for six weeks with "no perceptible good" being done. However, the six weeks he spent in Pomona resulted in eleven additions, and the five weeks in Tolbert resulted in five more. In Santa Ana, where he worked for six weeks to get a few scattered people together, he started a congregation of twenty members and was encouraged when one family left the Christian Church. In East Los Angeles, however, he received more encouragement because he received substantial help. Paul Gray, an elder of the Plum Street Church in Detroit, was visiting Los Angeles and heard Riggs while attending many of the services. R. H. Boll, Riggs' talented former classmate at the Nashville Bible School, was helping with the preaching. Austin McGary, his wife and three daughters, who were spending the winter in Los Angeles, were also frequent visitors. (G. W. Riggs, "Mission Work," Gospel Advocate, SLVI (July 14, 1904), 447.) McGary, now on his way to Eugene, Oregon, to make his home, was some encouragement to the tired Tennessee youth. Riggs had more reason to be encouraged with the groundwork in Los Angeles than just the presence of interested Christians; a good effort had been put forth earlier by R. H. Boll during the summer of 1903. For eight weeks Boll preached in a tent meeting. He explained, ". . . the simple, old gospel of Christ was preached, without admixture of human wisdom, and in contrast and in opposition to the fads and fancies, the parties and factions and the isms of today . . . The old story met with respect and attention and was accepted and obeyed by those who recognized the voice of the Shepherd and followed Him . . ."(R. H. Boll, "A Tent Meeting in Los Angeles," Gospel Review. I (Aug. 1903), 14.) Thirty people were added, some of whom were from the same Christian Church which Sanders had left five years ago. Since there was no building, the tent was left standing and church services were held there weekly.
There was time now to make an assessment of New Testament Christianity in southern California. The population of the whole region was one-half million and only six congregations, all struggling to exist. The strongest congregation was at Riverside where L. D. Perkins had come in 1898 and built a substantial work. Later, L. S. White would hold his debate here with an Adventist and in the three weeks' meeting to follow would add thirty-nine to the church. Too, Riggs noted that southern California attracted eastern Christians who possessed all sorts of viewpoints—some against Sunday Schools, literature, using only one cup—and these would accelerate bickering and slow the growth of the church. Extreme views grew and by the time C. C. Klingman returned with his sick wife from Japan to southern California in 1912, he was most discouraged.
The so-called 'loyal' churches of Christ throughout the state are too disjointed and divided to be interested in a piece of purely mission work. Their membership is made up of the oil and water of many states, and which has a hard time ever mixing. There are so many standards of loyalty that almost any forward movement is looked upon with suspicion; and if not openly and positively fought, it is retarded by this faction eager for control. . . No abiding enthusiastic moral support, much less financial support, could be expected from such organizations, although some brethren would endorse the movement." (C. C. Klingman, "Are You Interested in California?" Gospel Advocate, LIX(Oct. 4. 1917), 954.)
Given proper discouragement, weaknesses in the church can be magnified out of proportion, which they were. His disenchantment with the churches of Christ led Klingman during World War I, while preaching in Dallas, to leave the church for the liberal Disciples.
The immediate need of the Los Angeles Church, however, was for a new building since Riggs was early convinced that "tent" had a bad connotation in southern California. By 1905 they were meeting at 2115 Maniton Avenue, one block south of Downey Avenue between Twentieth and Twenty-fourth Streets. ("Miscellany," Gospel Advocate, XLVIII (Feb. 8, 1906), 85.) A year later it was described as a "cheap house but on a tabernacle style." (G. W. Riggs, "The Work in Southern California," Gospel Advocate, XLIX (Mar. 14, 1907), 170.) By 1909 plans grew for a new building and members were urged to give liberally. They gave so well that Felix G. Owen said, ". . . we did very much underestimate the liberality, self-denial, and sacrifice of the members here." A building seating 350 people was erected at the corner of Sichel and Altura Streets and it was a happy congregation who came for the first service on March 6, 1910. It was "an old time all day meeting—preaching in the forenoon, afternoon and at night and dinner on the ground," Owen said.
Christians from the East continued to arrive in Los Angeles to add strength to the work. Dr. A. P. Davis, a noted "neuropath," who wrote, The Drugless Science of Healing, moved to Los Angeles from Dallas in 1906 to augment the working force.("Field Reports," Christian Leader And The Way, XXVI (Nov. 7, 1911), 12.) Felix Owen came from Tennessee to make his home while F. W. Smith came from Tennessee to conduct a meeting in 1906 and R. H. Boll returned the next year for another. As for Riggs, when the building was completed in the spring of 1910, he went on a campaign "to spread the gospel in southern California" and during the year established three congregations—one in San Diego, another in Downey and "a country place in Orange County." "There were a few baptized," he reflected. "This is a hard field. It is very difficult to get a hearing."("Miscellany," Gospel Advocate, LII (Dec. 22, 1910), 1432.) California Christians never found the answer to the problem of interesting Californians in the gospel, though they tried. One of them wrote J. M. McCaleb in 1912, "Our greatest problem here is to get a hearing. We have never learned how to get the ears of the people; when we get to teach a person regularly for awhile, it nearly always results favorably." McCaleb suggested going into the homes. If each Christian would select an acquaintance and teach him, the problem would be solved. (J. M. McCaleb, "How to Get the Ears of the People," Gospel Advocate, LIV (Mar. 7, 1912), 295.) Without an adequate solution, growth among California churches remained steady but slow.
-Earl I. West, Search For The Ancient Order, Volume 3, pages 126-130
Los Angeles (Sichel Street) 1903
The first church of Christ in Los Angeles was known as the Sichel Street Church and grew out of a tent meeting on East Avenue 28 held by G. W. Riggs in 1903. Meetings continued in the tent for a year and then moved into a "tabernacle" on Manitou Avenue. In 1910 the church occupied the present building at Sichel & Altura Streets. G. W. Riggs continued as an elder here until his death. Out of this work many of the Los Angeles churches have started, as well as in such places as Riverside, Downey, Fresno, San Diego, Dinuba, Alhambra, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Casitas Springs, Yucaipa, Burbank, Placentia, Glenn and Fullerton. Many noted preachers have served here. Those after 1940 are in order: F. W. Mattox, Chester Elford, H. O. Wilson, Mark McElhaney, Roy Key, Lloyd Ellis, John Wolfe, Byron Brown, Carl Mitchell, Elton Davis, Gene Powell, Kenneth Shrable, Bill Free, Dale Townsend and the present minister — Jess Armas. L. C. Flint, Lewis M. Duff and Paul Eldridge serve as elders.
-History of the Churches of Christ in California, Second Edition, page 10
Directions To The Sichel Street Church
In NE downtown Los Angeles, take the I-5 to Exit 136, North Broadway, and head east. Take North Broadway to Sichel St. and turn left. The Sichel Street church lies on the corner of Sichel and Altura Streets. The church became the mother church of other congregations in the city. They planted the Central church of Christ in 1922 in the city on the corner of Twelfth and Hoover Streets. They also planted others. The church still meets today as a Hispanic congregation, a.k.a. Iglesia de Cristo.
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Photos Taken June 25, 2012
Page produced December 15, 2012
Courtesy of Scott Harp