These highlights of our history have been summarized and updated from the very detailed A History of St. Alban's by Elizabeth Ann Cahall, published in 1991 in celebration of our fiftieth anniversary as a parish..
The original St. Alban's Chapel in a 1941 drawing...
...and in an oil painting by R. Wright.
"In honor of St. Alban"
In the Beginning
The site of St. Alban's Chapel, built in 1931 as a mission of the Diocese of Los Angeles, was chosen because of its proximity to the newly established campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, which has provided an important focus of the parish since then. The Rev'd John A. Bryant was called as its vicar, and he conducted the first service on Christmas Eve of that year. The new mission was named in honor of St. Alban, known as the first Christian martyr in England. His feast day is June 22.
St. Alban's was to be a memorial to the late Joseph Horsfall Johnson, who served as the first Bishop of Los Angeles from 1896 to 1928, and whose interest in education and students formed a great part of his life's work. Bishop Johnson's son Reginald D. Johnson, a noted architect of the time, designed St. Alban's Chapel and many other buildings in Southern California, including the chancellor's residence at UCLA, All Saints Church in Pasadena, St. Saviour's Chapel at Harvard-Westlake School, and the main post office and the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara.
The 1940s and 1950s
On January 25, 1941, St. Alban's was designated a parish, meaning that it was now a self-sustaining congregation no longer subsidized by the diocese, and could form a vestry and call a rector. The main church building was dedicated on March 2 of that year; its architect was P.P. Lewis, who also designed the Fox Theatre in Westwood Village. As World War II loomed, the parish had almost 500 members and a large Sunday School. It continued to grow during the war and after. To accommodate such growth in the 1950s, a second story was added to the office wing of the church, primarily for use of Sunday School classes.
Except for several years' service as a U.S. Army chaplain, the Rev'd John A. Bryant continued as rector until his death in 1953. He was succeeded by the Rev'd R. Parker Jones, whose tenure marked a period of great growth for the parish. The Sunday School grew to 700 children, filling the newly constructed rooms, the parish hall and the YWCA next door. The mortgage was paid off; there were four Sunday morning services; the chapel was enlarged with the addition of the narthex; over forty parish organizations were active and the Parish Reporter (later The Good News) began publishing to provide better communications among all these diverse groups. Christmas bazaars were held and a Parish Decorating Day was inaugurated, which has become a yearly tradition.
In the area of outreach, St. Alban's sponsored resettlement of a Dutch Indonesian family, and lay people virtually operated a parish mission at the Eastern Star Home formerly near Sunset and Barrington. The first of many acclaimed Spring Art Festivals was held, featuring works of 150 established contemporary artists and gifted amateurs.
In 1960 the Rev'd John V. Farnsworth joined the staff, doing much of his work with the youth of St. Alban's, training acolytes and lay readers, and working with an enthusiastic and growing youth group. He remained until 1967 when he left to become rector of St. David's in North Hollywood. Ongoing parking problems threatening the continuing life of the parish were partially solved by the purchase of adjoining property.
In the mid-1960s a nationwide decline in church attendance started affecting St. Alban's. The national economy was weakening, the Vietnam war with its divisive effects was escalating, and St. Alban's suffered decreasing attendance and reduced financial support.
In 1968 the Stephen S. Wise congregation completed its new temple on Mulholland Drive, thus concluding three years of holding their Friday night worship services at St. Alban's. During their stay they made generous contributions to our church, and we still maintain a warm relationship.
In 1969 Dr. James H. Vail, then an assistant professor of music at the University of Southern California and now professor emeritus, became St. Alban's organist and choirmaster. Thus began his many years of inspired leadership of our magnificent choir which sings at the 10:00 a.m. service every Sunday and presents four or five Sunday afternoon concerts each year.
The 1970s and 1980s
After a long battle with heart problems, the Rev. R. Parker Jones died in October of 1971 after twenty-two years as a devoted priest of this congregation. He gave unselfishly of his time and caring for his parishioners. The assistant rector, the Rev. Norman Y. Ishizaki, was named priest-in-charge and in 1973 was selected as the new rector to succeed him. Father Norm held this position until 2002, guiding the congregation through crises and good times, some of the time without an assistant priest to share the burden.
In continuing outreach, St. Alban's sponsored two Vietnamese families, helping them to resettle and become independent. In 1979 the Rt. Rev. George W. Barrett, retired Bishop of Rochester, New York, began his close association with St. Alban's as our "bishop in residence," traveling monthly from his home in Santa Barbara to preach and assist with services.
Since the mid-1980s, brown bag lunches have been assembled by parishioners and distributed from the church office to the homeless and hungry.
Also in the 1980s, when neighborhood parking became restricted, an arrangement was made with UCLA to use a parking structure on Sundays in return for use of our lot on weekdays for student parking.
In 1989 the congregations of St. Alban's and Stephen S. Wise Temple formed the Wise Saints Corporation and worked together to rehabilitate two hotels on skid row, now used for low income housing.
The 1990s to the Present
During the 1990s, Father Norm was joined by the Rev. James E. Williams as his assistant. Father Williams instituted a drama program which presented several lively plays, reorganized the church school, and developed a chapel service for children. He left in 1996 to become rector of St. Martha's in West Covina.
Because of failing health, Bishop Barrett ended his visits to St. Alban's early in 2000. He died in December of that year at age 92 after deciding to discontinue dialysis treatments.
The most important outreach has always been to students at UCLA, successfully carried out around the turn of the 21st century by the addition of the Rev'd Winnie Varghese to serve half-time on the clergy staff and half-time as Episcopal chaplain to UCLA. After three years with us, Winnie left in the summer of 2002 to accept a call to be the Episcopal chaplain at Columbia University in New York.
In September 2002, Father Norm Ishizaki retired after some 35 years of ordained ministry and 30 years as St. Alban's third rector. He was named Rector Emeritus by the vestry. The Rev'd Lorne E. Weaver became our interim rector as the parish entered a period of transition. At about the same time, the Rev'd Mark W. Speeks joined the staff as associate for campus ministry; in the summer of 2003 he left to return to his native England. In the fall of that year, this position was filled by the Rev'd J.R. Lander, who left in the summer of 2004 to accept a post in Atlanta.
To honor the connections across the generations of our parish family, a columbarium was added to the south transept of St. Alban's Chapel in December 2003.
In September 2004, the Rev. Susan Webster Klein began her tenure as St. Alban's fourth rector. Her previous posts included fourteen years at St. Aidan's, Malibu, first as vicar and then as rector. Susan retired in February of 2019 and the parish anticipates the selection of a new rector and entry into a new chapter of parish history.
As we move into the future, we do so with gratitude that St. Alban's remains where it is despite shifting demographics and sometimes heavy financial burdens. We especially offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the dedicated clergy who have served this parish in the past and who serve it at the present time.