On Sept. 6, 1874, eleven followers of Jesus gathered for worship at the first service of the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles under the leadership of the church’s first pastor, Dr. William Hobbs. And it was only a year later that FBC led Baptist churches in officially organizing a Sunday School with its own separate constitution and by-laws.
In 3 years, the church had 100 members as the growth of the railroads into Southern California brought more people to Los Angeles. After sharing space with their Methodist brothers and sisters and moving between various locations along the North Spring Street area, FBC moved to its first official home at the corner of Sixth and Fort Streets in 1884. With just 100 members, the new building was funded by donations from well-known Angelonian families like the Van Nuys’ and Lankershims.
As the late 1800s gave way to a new century, attendance at FBC reached more than 300, and FBC began to be an ecumenical voice by sponsoring revival services in cooperation with other churches and denominations. To accommodate the increase in membership, early church leaders had to find another location. To celebrate the opening of the second location for FBC at 727 South Flower Street, church leaders invited Dwight L. Moody to preach. Billy Sunday preached at this same location in 1913. History was also made at FBC in 1886 when the first 3-manual pipe organ in Southern California was presented to the church.
Because of continued growth, FBC moved to its current location in 1927. The church’s new sanctuary seats 1,950. Unlike most Southern California Baptist churches, FBC’s ceiling was patterned after the chapel of the Ducal Palace in Mantova, Italy. Compared to its former locations, the new church was an immense Spanish gothic building with more than 130 rooms.
First Baptist’s first home at Sixth and Fort Streets (April 4, 1884 to 1898)
The 1950s were a period of change for FBC. In 1950, membership at FBC totaled more than 3,000, and by the end of the decade, it had fallen to 1,500 as families started moving to Orange County and the Valleys. The FBC radio ministry, that was started in 1942, ended in 1960. Although the demographics of the church had changed, FBC continued to adapt its vision for reaching others for Christ. FBC led the way in sponsoring more than 250 Cuban refugee families and introduced headsets for Spanish and Korean translation in the early 60s. By 1969, FBC began English as a second language classes, and in 1973, the church opened Vista Tower, a senior residential home for persons 62 and over.
The 1980s brought to FBC a designation by the City of Los Angeles as Historic Cultural Monument No. 237 in 1981, and FBC hosted the Baptist World Alliance in 1986 where former president Jimmy Carter spoke.
Throughout the 90s, the faces of FBC continued to change as the surrounding neighborhood did. What started out as a church with white-collar, middle class family members has become a fellowship whose members are white, Latino, Korean, Filipino, African American and many others.
International, Intercultural, Ecumenical – FBC continues to make God’s love, as it is known in Jesus Christ, present in word and deed. With a membership rich in diversities and backgrounds, FBC will continue to be a light to Los Angeles and to other parts of the world from its house of worship at 760 South Westmoreland Ave.
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