Rudolph Schindler’s Only Church is Resurrected

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Architecture enthusiasts and members of the Faith-Build International community are rejoicing in the re-opening of the Bethlehem church on Compton Avenue, designed in the mid-1940s by Modernist pioneer Rudolph Schindler. But did Schindler, a progressive thinker, come to design this radical church in that location at that time?

SChindler Church entrance, photo by Robert Mace

This past weekend an Open House took place on Compton Avenue at 49th in South Los Angeles; the venue was a white-painted building that is not large but distinctive, with interlocking blank walls and wooden frame, a little reminiscent of works by Frank Lloyd Wright. Its interior is L-shaped and softly lit, by sunlight filtered through high windows with overhangs and clerestories. Look upwards and the wooden structure extends into a cross.

Pastor Melvyn Ashley, photo by Robert MaceThis is the new home of Faith-Build International (FBI), and it is the only church realized by Modernist pioneer Rudolph Schindler. He built it in 1944 for the Bethlehem Baptist congregation who sold the building in 1975. For a long time it lay dormant, becoming dilapidated and covered in graffiti.

Now, thanks to an accidental discovery of the church that FBI Pastor Melvin Ashley, right, calls nothing less than a act of God, the church has been revived, patched up and repainted, with fresh additions like lights designed by Brendan Ravenhill, shown in the interior, below left. And it has opened for worship.

Schindler Church pulpit, photo by Robert MaceCongregation members, Schindler fans and architectural preservationists are thrilled. Yet still an intriguing mystery persists: how did Rudolph Schindler – assumed to be a non-believer, known best for his  radical 1920s house on the Kings Road in West Hollywood that was a haven of progressive arts and politics — come to build this church?

Find out by listening to this segment, featuring commentary from Pastor Ashley, as well as Schindler experts Steve Wallet, who has advised FBI about the building, and Steve Lamb; the LA Conservancy’s Cindy Olnick; Robert Mace, a Schindler fan who flew all the way from Austin especially for the Open House; architect Martin Fenlon; and Chava Danielson, an architect who worked on the restoration and adaptation of Schindler’s Bubeshko Apartments in Silverlake; and Capri Blount, administrator for FBI.

All photos by Robert Mace. Read more about the Open House and the church in his blog.

Schindler Church, view from the pulpit, photo by Robert Mace