If you've traveled from Pasadena to Downtown Los Angeles on the 110-Pasadena Freeway, you've probably seen a group of historic structures on the side of the freeway. All of those structures, which make up the collection at Heritage Square Museum, were moved to the site in order to save them. Three buildings-the Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church, the Longfellow-Hastings Octagon Home and Dr. Osborne's Carriage Barn have their roots in Pasadena. The church, may be remembered by some as being located at the corner of Lincoln Avenue (hence the name) and Orange Grove, where the Jackie Robinson Post Office sits today.
The Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church was one of the first integrated churches in Southern California. With this forward-looking attitude, the congregation exploded in growth and by the 1960s had to move into a larger building. However, the structure at Lincoln and Orange Grove continued to be used and was known as the Lincoln Avenue Methodist Social Service Center, a community center for church functions and classes. Unfortunately, maintaining two buildings simultaneously became an incredible challenge and by 1979 the plot was purchased by the United States Postal Service.
In 1981, with no alternative but demolition, the church was cut into six pieces and moved to Heritage Square. By the time the museum received the building, the beautifully ornate stained glass windows and the pews had been stolen, much of the plaster was stripped from the walls and the organ was lost to history. As a small museum with limited funds, very little restoration work has been performed on the church. That, however, is about to change. According to a church pamphlet from the 1950s, major changes in the Church's leadership and membership occurred after World War II. Recognizing the growing African American presence in the community, the
Reverend Byron G. Deshler spent the first two years of his pastorate "preparing the church for its inter-racial program by deepening the spiritual life of its members." During services and private conversations, he "sought to hold up 'the mind of Christ' as our criteria for racial relationships." Around 1947, during Deshler's ministry, the church hired its first Afro-American staff member, Miss Lillian Gordon, as Director of Community Service and saw its first Afro-American couple join the congregation, Mrs. May Reese Johnson and her husband.
In 1951, Reverend Harlan Waite joined the congregation, expressing a strong "desire to serve in an inter-racial church". After integrating, the Church's non-Anglo membership rose 20%. Under Reverend Waite's leadership, Associate Pastor Rex Jones was hired and "church leadership as well as membership became inter-racial." Pastor Jones was responsible for building two youth groups for the church and "won the hearts of the people." Two years later, after Associate Pastor Jones left, Charles Harlin, another Afro-American minister, joined the church leadership. Sadly, it wasn't until 1956 that the United Methodist Church officially denounced the segregation of its churches at the national level.
Reverend Daniel Lee Towler joined the Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church in 1956/57. In 1950, he graduated cum laude from Washington and Jefferson College, and received a graduate scholarship at Howard University. In 1950 he was also drafted to the Los Angeles Rams and became a professional football star playing both halfback and fullback. During his successful football career, he continued his education at USC's School of Religion and received his Master's Degree in Theology in June, 1952. Immediately after graduating from USC, he was appointed to the pulpit of Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church. Rev. Towler was also a member of the NAACP, the Pasadena Community Planning Committee on Youth Affairs, the Pasadena-Altadena Human Relations Committee and the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. Rev. Daniel Towler died on August 1, 2001 at the age of 73, at his home in Pasadena.
Heritage Square Museum has been fortunate to have received two sizeable donations to help begin our campaign to bring back the beautiful stained-glass windows that were once one of the most prominent features on the church. Ms. Martha Scott, a former parishioner, and the Robert and Kari Grimm Family Foundation have stepped up to provide $20,000 toward the restoration of these beautiful windows. Many individuals have also contributed, bringing us about 20% of the funds needed for the restoration. We hope that many people who remember the church and believe it to be an important part of the story of Pasadena will also come forward to share their stories, contribute to the restoration and generally visit the museum to see the structure in person.
Heritage Square Museum is regularly open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 12 to 4 p.m. and provides tours of the structures at 12; 1; 2 and 3 pm. Admission is $10/adults, $8/seniors, $5/children ages 6-12. The Museum is located at 3800 Homer Street, off the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway (110/Pasadena Freeway) at Avenue 43, just north of downtown Los Angeles. For further information, visit our website at www.heritagesquare.org.
For updates on the church restoration and fundraising efforts, please visit our blog at heritagesquare.blogspot.com.