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Verdugo Views: The word on St. Mark's history

March 27, 2014|By Katherine Yamada
  • After the landmark Glendale Hotel, built in 1887 on Broadway between Jackson and Isabel streets, fell victim to a faltering economy, it was rented by the Episcopal Church and used as a girls' school. St. Hilda's Hall opened in February 1889 and a month later became the first home of the newly formed Episcopal mission, which eventually became St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Photo circa 1890.
After the landmark Glendale Hotel, built in 1887 on Broadway… (Courtesy of Special…)

When Bruce Merritt, a longtime member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, volunteered to research the church’s history in preparation for its 125th anniversary, he didn’t realize that it would turn into a multiyear project.

“I’ve always loved history and when Father Mark (the Very Rev. Canon Mark Weitzel) asked if somebody would do a little exhibit on the church’s history, I volunteered,” Merritt said. “When I discovered that the church had detailed handwritten records all the way back to the 1880s, I got really interested.”

Merritt realized that — beyond the bare facts of the church’s founding and its transition into a large suburban church — was a greater story.

He set out to write not just the story of a small church in a small town, but the greater story of a congregation making its way through the flood of events shaping Southern California since the 1880s.

“The great events — the wars, the migrations, the booms and busts, the cultural and social upheavals — that changed the face of America affected the evolving St. Mark’s community,” he wrote in the preface of his just published book, “St. Mark’s Journey, the Story of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1888 – 1989” chronicling its first 100 years.

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The story begins on a warm Sunday morning in August, 1888, in a farm house a few miles north of the small frontier city of Los Angeles.

“A group of men and women have assembled in the home of an English immigrant who has recently settled here. Most of them are English by birth and Church of England by faith,” Merritt wrote.

They were part of a huge migration lured here as land prices soared and new towns were laid out. They soon had a church home and a girl’s school in the former Glendale Hotel, renamed St. Hilda’s Hall.

Fast forward to the 1920s when an even larger boom turned this town into a bustling suburb of 60,000. It was a time of great cultural change throughout America.

“Looking back, the popular image of the decade is one of wild abandon, of flappers, short skirts and bootleg whiskey,” Merritt wrote.

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