Interior renovation renews an Eagle Rock church but honors its past

Work In Progress: Carpeting was removed as part of renovation/Courtesy Seth Matheson

Almost Done: New floor tile and pews are in place/Courtesy Seth Matheson

By Brenda Rees

Members of the Eagle Rock’s Seventh Day Adventist Church are smiling a little broader these days, thanks to a recent interior renovation of their notable and historic 1928 Merton Avenue church.

Maybe you’ve passed this building located south of Colorado Boulevard near Ellenwood? From the outside, this Spanish Colonial Revival building sits on a triangle-like apex, straddling a residential neighborhood, Solheim Nursing Home and a nearby shopping mall. Unlike many Christian church denominations, SDA churches are characteristically unadorned with simple lines and unassuming details.

But don’t be deceived – this church building has historic bones.

This church was built in 1928 by Mendal Meyer and Gabriel Holler (Meyer and Holler), local architects responsible for many iconic landmarks throughout Los Angeles, including as Grauman’s Chinese Theater, The Hollywood Athletic Club, The Egyptian, Culver Studios and more.

The church was originally built for Eagle Rock’s Christian Science community. But when their numbers dwindled in the ‘80s, the SDA purchased the building and land for $410,000 in 1982.  The Eagle Rock community of  Seventh Day Adventists came together in 1923 and used to meet in a room above a pool hall on Merton Avenue, According to the SDA website. Starting with a mere 62 members, the  Eagle Rock church counted more than 700 in their flock by the 1980s.

After purchasing the church, SDA leaders under took a first wave of remodeling  intended to bring the building up to code and leave it well suited for their  worship space.  Church members also were concentrating on creating their Family Life Center, an important element in their ministries. Over the years, however, time and age took its toll on the church structure and earlier this year, church members contacted Mt. Washington interior designer Seth Matheson to help the church community restore the luster to this former architectural gem.

New floor tiles/Courtesy Seth Matheson

Honoring the building’s sacredness was a top priority for Matheson, who also wanted to enhance the Spanish Colonial aspects of the interior, which features a typical high ceiling, exposed wooden beams, intricate grillwork and flowing archways.

“I wanted to highlight the Moroccan, Spanish and even Mexican themes that were popular with this kind of building in the 1920s,” says Matheson,  who added that some of the architectural influences for the design came from the rich tile work of Malibu’s Adamson House and the intricate wood carvings of Spain’s Alhambra Palace.

Work began in March and the final touches – lighting in the arches– were recently installed.  He modify the baptistry wall and arch using wall finishes and architectural elements so  the baptistry would be more cohesive with the surrounding area  yet stand out as a focal point.  Nearby, two decorative grill work panels were updated and enhanced. Custom wallpaper was created for the main entrance and foyer – the geometrical/floral pattern again reflects a Spanish flair. Used sparingly, the wallpaper shows off its lyrical pattern in understated beauty.

That ornate wallpaper compliments the decorative center tile pathway that, like a carpet runner, now tracks inside the church building flanked by the newly polished pews. Matheson had the blue-gray carpet removed and replaced the floor with hand-poured concrete tiles that resemble terra cotta but are more resilient and long-lasting.

Three graceful arcs on either side of the pews have small accent lights attached to them so that during evening services/events, the upward glow makes for a dramatic intimate space.

All choices were made to “feel authentic so you can’t tell if this is new or has been here for years,” says Matheson who thinks that many these elements – especially the tiles – will look better in next 100 years as they age.

Since the church traditionally is known for its simple adornments, all decorative elements needed to be the right ones, Matheson  reiterated. Above all, he continued, “these design aesthetics needed to telegraph the idea to worshipers of a divine presence.”

Matheson counts this as his first church assignment; his previous work has been in large-scale residential and public buildings. He hopes to do more religious-based projects because these building are important to so many people. Nothing tops the feeling of accomplishment, he says, when church members came up to him during a recent church celebration to shake his hand. “They are really proud of their church because it’s home to so many,” he says.

Custom wallpaper covers the foyer ceiling/Courtesy Seth Matheson

Trays made out of the new floor tiles/Courtesy Seth Matheson

Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.

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