History of the Church
The first endeavor to establish an Antiochian Church in Southern California started in the early 1900's by a handful of American Arabic Orthodox families in Los Angeles; families who had gone to several other Churches in their community for their spiritual services. Between 1900-1902, two different attempts had been made to build an Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. Money had been collected on two different occasions, only to have the money returned because of disagreements between factions in policies involving the construction and operation of the Church. After World War I ended, significant changes took place: first, a considerable population increase of Orthodox families of Arabic heritage in the Los Angeles area; second, the much-revered Father Elias Saidy moved his family from Duluth, Minnesota, to Los Angeles, where he purchased a four-room house at 36th and Gramercy Place. Gradually, after an Altar had been established in his house, Fr. Saidy's "Orthodox Church home" outgrew its ability to accommodate the many families who came to share his love of the Orthodox Liturgy and service. The time had come to build a separate Church. Father Saidy, with the assistance of community leaders, raised the necessary funds to purchase the Church site on the corner of Gramercy Place and 36th Street.
The first Orthodox Church, St. George, small as it was, opened its doors to the faithful in 1924, serving the religious needs of over 100 Orthodox followers. Father Saidy served the community well, although it became increasingly difficult to meet the religious needs of an ever-expanding Orthodox Family. In 1927, matters came to a head as problems developed, both in the Orthodox Community and in the Church itself on Gramercy Place. The Church environment was changing due to patterns of population growth; parking and attending Church services became difficult. There was talk of a new Church in a more central and desirable location. This new Church idea stirred in the minds of the people, slowly at first, and by the 1930's, grew in ever-increasing popularity. The decline of St. George Church attendance became evident in the early 1930's - the time had come to face the new Church issue squarely. In 1936, Metropolitan ANTONY (Bashir) visited Los Angeles and, during his stay, attended a general meeting of the Orthodox Community in the basement of St. George Church. After the exchange of many views, a general agreement was reached that the time had come to build a new and larger Church at a site best located to serve the needs of the Orthodox families throughout the Los Angeles area; a Church to be constructed at the earliest possible date; a Church in keeping with the dignity of the Orthodox Community. Father Saidy felt strongly attached to his St. George Church, and despite many attempts to get him involved in the new Church, he decided to remain with his original Parish. The 1940's were to usher in a new era in our Orthodox Community.
In June 1943, the St. Nicholas Orthodox Society was organized; its purpose, to go forward with the plans to build the new Orthodox Church. In 1944, the first Board of Directors of St. Nicholas Orthodox Society put into operation the fund, working day and night, visiting families throughout the Southland. Originally, the Church was to be located at 8th and Grandview, where the property for the Church was given by the Haddad Brothers. Later it was decided that this location was not suitable, so the land was sold for a profit, and it was invested in the purchase of the site where St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral stands today. Paul Williams was selected as the architect, and the cornerstone was laid in 1948 with many in attendance. Financing became an issue, and the problem was solved when many dedicated leaders personally endorsed the Church project by furnishing credit statements to one of the leading banks in Southern California. A line of credit of $300,000 was quickly approved after the bank director visited the Church site. Great confidence was expressed in the leadership of those societies behind the Church movement, such as the Ladies Society of St. Nicholas, St. Nicholas Young Men's Society, the SOYO Movement, and the Board of Directors of St. Nicholas.
After years of hope and frustration, the Community dream came true as the Church was completed in 1950. It is estimated that the cost of building the Church was approximately $600,000. The Church was now ready to begin serving about 350 Orthodox families. The dedication ceremony was performed by Metropolitan ANTONY (Bashir), Archbishop of New York and all North America.
With the completion and dedication of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, plans were drawn for the second stage of the building program --the Church Hall. The parishioners of St. Nicholas envisioned the Hall as a necessary addition to the Church to serve the Community's social activities. Plans went ahead to construct the Hall regardless of the outstanding debt still involved against the Church. Again the architectural firm of Paul Williams was commissioned to design the Church Hall. Ground breaking ceremonies took place in January 1952, and the dedication was performed by Archbishop ANTONY (Bashir) and assisted by Fathers Elias and James Meena on August 23, 1953. The financial outlay was estimated at $285,000 - again supported by the Citizens National Bank. The construction of the Church Hall was memorable in that the Orthodox Community --men and women, old and young, pitched in on an everyday basis, helping in the construction program that saved thousands of dollars. The Church Hall was a dream that came true, for it has become the Center of the Orthodox Community in relation to its social, religious, educational, civic, athletic and cultural programs.
The third stage of the historic St. Nicholas Orthodox movement in Los Angeles was the development of a facility to serve the needs of youth; an Orthodox Youth Camp. What a challenge on behalf of youth. Once again the search was on to find where to construct a facility for all seasons. This time we were searching for a precious treasure - cool, fresh springs of water, a fountain of youth in a setting of beauty that God created for mankind. After months of searching and exploring, the Mt. Pinos area of Frazier Park, a federal national forest area, twenty-one acres of virgin beauty, was leased for ninety-nine years. As always, the question of the financial outlay became a serious obstacle as there was still a substantial indebtedness involved on the two previously completed projects: the Church and the Church Hall. All the societies meeting at St. Nicholas Hall were inspired by the fast-growing youth programs and a need was felt for some kind of retreat and recreational facility. A committee of two, soon expanded to four, was organized in 1958-59. The construction of the Camp was organized around a master plan that was developed during 1962. The first phase called for the completion of two dormitories and one staff building to house 40 personnel. Another unit of the Camp was soon completed - a Mess Hall, judged by many experts to be the most modern in North America sometimes referred to as the "Waldorf of North America". This facility can accommodate over two hundred campers at one time. Later, a staff facility building with an infirmary was added. Soon thereafter an Olympic-size, heated pool was completed with full physical education quarters, such as lockers, shower rooms, athletic equipment, and finally several athletic fields.
In 1984, the Chapel of St. Paul was completed. Over 250 cedar trees were given to the Camp by the Department of Forestry of the United States Government. They are well on their way to adult growth from their juvenile beginnings. There is no end to the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church Story; for dreams never end, and the blessings that come from our Church families never cease.
St. Nicholas was also the first Church to be designated a "Cathedral" after the establishment of the Mother Cathedral in New York. In the last fifty years, St. Nicholas has been honored by the General Assembly of the Archdiocese Convention to be the host of four National Archdiocese Conventions. Also, St. Nicholas has hosted many SOYO Regional Conferences. Saint Nicholas gave their assistance in the establishment of all the Churches in Southern California.
Since its establishment, there has been a gradual transformation of the Cathedral resulting from renovation, remodeling, and re-beautification. Today, St. Nicholas is one of the most impressive Orthodox Cathedrals in all North America. The mosaics were specially made in Florence, Italy, by the world-renowned five hundred year old Mosaic School of Michael Mellini and Company. The St. George Chapel, with a separate Baptistry, was added to the Cathedral. Improvements such as air conditioning, seating comfort, and the graceful and elegant setting, have brought serenity and feeling of being in the presence of our Lord.
1977 was proclaimed "Antiochian Holy Year" with a visit from His Beatitude Patriarch ELIAS IV. 1985 was also proclaimed "Antiochian Holy Year" with a visit from His Beatitude, Patriarch IGNATIUS IV.
The development and growth of the St. Nicholas Church School has been a success story from the beginning. A complete Church School Library with audio and visual aids has been added for the education of our children. The study of the Bible, Orthodox history and tradition has been an exciting and thrilling experience, helping to sustain, among our youth, a great tradition and an understanding of the Orthodox Liturgy.
The community founded St. Nicholas Memorial Gardens, Valhalla Cemetery, in North Hollywood. St. Nicholas Cedars Manor, a twenty-six unit senior citizen apartment complex, was constructed next to the Cathedral in 1981. The Community of St. Nicholas was instrumental in establishing an Archdiocesan Chancery on the West Coast. In 1987, St. Nicholas Cathedral assisted in over 1000 Chrismations and 50 Ordinations of the members of the Evangelical Orthodox Church into the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Today the Cathedral has become the Communication Center and hub of the Orthodox Community in Southern California.
the success story of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral would remain incomplete
unless special recognition was given to many prominent clergy and their
families, loved by the whole community.