Author: 3rdandcedar

What happened last year?

Wow, long time no post! Our team has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to prepare for the east façade renovation and this fall construction will begin! The Preservation Committee is so grateful for the support of the First Church community throughout this process. Here is the much-anticipated project update.

Last year:

  • Engineering simulations were run to calculate the strength required of the steel support frame to withstand the gravity, wind, and seismic loads.
  • Detailed construction drawings were produced detailing the current condition and the proposed changes we have made to the building.
  • The Navy Memorial Heritage Foundation generously granted the church a second award of $50,000 toward the replacement of the terra cotta around the east rose window.
  • The Preservation Committee secured a line of credit to cover future expenses, should they exceed our current funds or rate of fundraising.

Dead load analysis completed by Critical Structures Inc.

What is the Committee working on now?

  • A detailed project description is being sent out to potential contractors.
  • The city of Long Beach is reviewing the proposed project plans.
  • Candidates will be interviewed and given a tour of the church to inform their pricing.
  • Construction logistics are being planned around church scheduling.

What are the next steps?

  • A grant writer will be hired to help the project apply for funds on an ongoing basis, if you have any recommendations, please let anyone of the Preservation Team know.
  • Bids will be reviewed at the end of August.
  • The contracts will be awarded by early September.
  • A final construction schedule will be negotiated by the team.
  • Scaffolding will be erected on the east side in the early fall.
  • Project is expected to be completed early 2019.

How will construction impact the church?

  • The east rose window will be removed and the opening will be sealed for weather protection. The light will be blocked until the replacement terracotta is ready to be installed.
  • The parking spaces immediately in front of the church will be reserved for construction use, similar to across the street. The spaces in the Potholder lot will still be available, as well as the city and 3rd street lots.
  • Scaffolding will be erected on the exterior of the east side and the interior east sanctuary balcony. The sidewalk will be protected by a covered walkway. Street access through the coffin door, the east sanctuary balcony and the hallway behind the organ will be blocked off for construction access.

Thank you for your patience as we carefully plan the east side renovation. We are very excited to get this project underway and see positive changes to the exterior appearance of the church!


The Guts of the Building

Those of you who attended last Sunday’s service may have felt like you were in a hell fire or a hot-yoga version of church but that is the building’s natural state, no air conditioning. It was a shorter service with typically low attendance, many at or avoiding the Gay Pride Parade, so it seemed like a good time to experiment. Wrong. Church members were sweating, an overheated woman left in the middle of service, and the organ pipes went out of tune. We learn from our mistakes. In this post I want to take a closer look at our air conditioning and show you the guts that make this building an icebox or an oven.

The interior of the boiler room. Contains the controls, pumps, and the intake/outtake pipes for the ice bank.

The current hybrid system was put in place with the retrofit in 1988. Underneath the courtyard is an ice-maker that is now run only on the hottest of days but was originally used every night. In the morning when the cold air was needed, water would be pumped over the ice to cool it. The cooled water would then be pumped around the building where fans could blow over the cool pipes and create cold air. Now we use chemically refrigerated water most of the time but the ice system still functions.

Hot and cold water pumps.

In 2002 when the new building was added the volume of cool air needed was effectively doubled but no new capacity was added to the old system. The logic was that both buildings were rarely used simultaneously so one system could serve both. Unfortunately lived experience tells us that is not the case.

Attic duct work over second floor offices.

The Port of Long Beach is offering grants to local organizations that serve children to address their air conditioning problems with the intention that high quality filters will be installed to pull out the harmful particulates emitted by the port. Yvonne, Sam, and I are currently exploring options to take advantage of this wonderful program to improve our system. We will keep you posted on our progress!

Rooftop cooling tower.

The Root of the Problem

Last week we removed a small section of the outermost brickwork on the lower east side. This excavation revealed poor original workmanship that has been damaging our terracotta and brickwork from the inside.

The cracks in the terra cotta sill and column base point almost directly towards the unfortunate join in the underlying masonry.

The strength of a masonry building comes from interlocking bricks held tightly in place by an even, tightly packed mortar. In our case, the bricks are not interlocking but are abutting one another leaving a vertical void that has only gotten bigger as the building settled and the mortar softened. The result of the space is that the columns and piers are sinking into the hollow terracotta blocks causing cracking and deformation in all of the moving parts involved.

The bricks should be interlocking but instead multiple rows meet at the same place creating an unstable base for the details above.

In addition, there are several four ft. L-shaped beams that hold the veneer brick in place and are supposed to shore up the interior masonry. These beams are exposed and have expanded thanks to heavy rusting. This has caused cracking in the brick and further weakening to the interior masonry.

Corroded L-beam and back base plate.

The root causes of damage have been identified and now our team is working on addressing the structural issues at hand. Once the treatment is finalized, exact pricing will be figured out. As soon as we get the numbers the Preservation Committee will give a presentation giving a full update on the project. Let me know if you have questions!

First Church’s MLK: Marylou Klar


She came to California as bride. Mary Lou Klar moved across the country with her new husband just a few days after they married. Both grew up on the east coast but with the enticement of work and families ties to Bob’s aunt and uncle they migrated west. They landed in downtown Long Beach where Mary Lou found work as a secretary. They attended the Old Methodist Church on Easter but soon after they bought their house in North Long Beach they began attended Cal Heights Methodist Church.

Cal Heights Methodist

Cal Heights Methodist Church

Two sons later they moved to the former bean field that was a freshly built subdivision in west Garden Grove. A knock on the door drew the Klars to a new offshoot of the United Church of Christ. Their first meeting was in the breezeway of a drive through dairy farm. Mr. Granger preached and his wife tried her best with a pump organ. With the help of a land grant from the UCC conference, the church grew into an air-supported building. Later on locally famous modernist architect A. Quincy Jones would design a brick and mortar building. It is now a Baptist church.

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Formerly the Garden Grove UCC Community Church

As her four children got older, Mary Lou decided to go back to work. At that point she took a fourteen-year break from attending church. In 1980, the family moved back to Long Beach and joined the Bay Shore Congregational church. Like the Cal heights Methodist Church, the couples club was much older than the Klars so they stopped going. Throughout this period the Klar children continued to attend Pilgrim Pines each summer. It was at camp that Debbie Bond nee Klar met Mary Ellen Kilsby. Debbie came back from the mountains singing her praises,” Mom! You’ve got to go. She puts on a real sermon.” So they went and just kept on going.


Mary Ellen Kilsby, former pastor of FCCLB

One of the most striking moments in the church for Mary Lou was the funeral of her son, Steve, in 1989. Steve moved home after being diagnosed with AIDs. Instead of feeling victimized, he joined a support group called Men Alive and the Great American Yankee Freedom Band. Over 150 people attended his memorial service. The organ was being repaired so the piano was used to accompany Mary Lou’s niece who sang, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from Phantom of the Opera.

GAY band

GAY Freedom Band marching in a 1980 parade

Mary Lou became involved with Families Who Care, a support group for families who have AIDs positive relatives. She took over as the coordinator after the original founder retired. Eventually a young gay friend, Buel Kent, said to her,” There’s more to life than AIDs” and that is when she became moderator. After her term as moderator she joined Membership Development and Women’s Fellowship groups but she has never “been asked or volunteered for” a board position. She enjoys being a greeter but cannot stand so she meets people other ways (as I am sure many of you know). Be sure and say hi to Mary Lou next time you see her in service!

The Spice of First Church

Spicer Ramsay, First Church’s oldest member, has completed many projects over the years as both a volunteer and the Property Manager.   Here are just a few of the highlights he described to me in a 2-hour interview soon to be available in the archive.


One of the first projects he completed was a rearrangement of the choir loft. Originally wood paneling was even across the loft so that only the heads of a standing choir could be seen. There was also a 1.5 ft. open space behind the organ that anyone could potentially fall into. When the organ was replaced in 1954 Spicer and a few friends sawed the tall barriers in half and arranged them to protect the choir from tripping into the “abyss.”


The abyss.


Original panels at full height (center/L) next to spiced up panel (R)


Altered panel protecting the choir from falling

His next big project was the renovation of the basement restrooms in 1964. Apparently the men’s restroom was still using original plumbing and, as many of you know, choir practice is not easy on the pipes. In the 1970’s he worked with a local high school wood shop teacher to modify the basement. They made all of the cabinetry, enclosed the two classrooms, and replaced the lighting and flooring.


Spicer’s namesake dining hall is the location of his earliest memory at the church, sleeping on a pallet through his mother’s meetings.

Spicer got formally got involved with the building as Property Manager after John Pownell passed him the baton soon after the retrofit was completed. With the assistance of a few contractors John and Spicer finished the interior work. Most notably the dynamic due re-plastered and repainted the sanctuary and the Narthex.


To hide the rough edges around the doors left by the retrofit crews, Spicer made the decorative lintels over both entrances. He also added the brass rail.

Other miscellaneous woodworking projects include the trophy frame over the kids robes outside of the choir room near the drinking fountain, the cabinets with the inset glass panes in the basement, Elena’s step stool at the pulpit, and a panel in the Narthex, think you can find which one?


These are just a handful of the many improvements Spicer has made to First Church. Next time you see him please be sure to thank him for all of the hard work he’s put into caring for this building. It definitely shows!

Metal Detected

A few weeks ago the church had a boom lift parked right outside. The city permitted the lift to block the bike lane on 3rd St. and the street parking on Cedar Ave. for only two days. Unfortunately, it happened to be raining sporadically those days so our team had to construct a little enclosure so that they could conduct their survey.


Before the boom lift was delivered we met with conservators from Rosa Lowinger and Associates to examine the interior of the window to see what we could discover by potentially removing a small portion. The structural engineering team vetoed this idea citing that the wooden frame was, however inappropriately, carrying the load of the terracotta. So no information could be gained from the interior.


The following two days a boom lift was employed on the 3rd St. and Cedar Ave. sides of the building to document every crack in the brick and terra cotta exteriors. Using a special metal detector called an Elcometer Protovale Imp metal detector, metal armatures were found at the connection points of the terra cotta blocks in the rose windows tracery (See prior post for schematics).


Corrosion of these interior armatures is a significant cause of cracking in the hollow blocks that cannot expand to accommodate the change of the size of the metal. Mapping the damage allows our team to locate the areas that are structurally compromised and helps them design an appropriate solution to mitigate the damage. Stay tuned for more details!


This is the first time we have been able to examine the north side because the trees were recently trimmed back.


Our church was one of the first historic buildings to seismically retrofit using the CenterCore system. Using this method, holes filled with grout and rebar were drilled from the bare rooftop. Water relief holes were drilled in the sides of the building to allow moisture to escape and make sure grout was packed all the way to the bottom. Jim Woods did the congregation a great service by photographing the 1980’s retrofit. His photos of the building, the work that was done to it, and what was hidden behind the walls have been instrumental in helping us understand the structural implications of the retrofit. Here are a few gems from his archive donation.


No roof, no shirts.


Grout and rebar being placed into the cored center of the wall,


Drilling of water relief holes


Relief hole showing more grout is needed


A car accident witnessed by the crews from the roof. Notice no one is going to the phone booths to call for help.

Deck the halls with scaffolding!

Many of you who were at Christmas service may be wondering why there is scaffolding under the east window again. The answer is because of further investigations by the preservation team. Several architectural conservators will be examining the interior window to learn how it was put together. Their investigation is timed to preface the boom lift that was mentioned a few posts ago.


Through the course of our discussions it has become apparent that the north and east facades must be treated simultaneously. There are only four terra cotta manufacturers in the world. There is a lag between when the order is placed and the replacements are made and shipped. Ordering all of the replacement parts at once reduces the cost of shipping and the time to get the terra cotta pieces. To figure out how many total parts are going to be needed both facades must be examined.



The north side may also be built differently than the east. The north cornice collapsed in the 1933 earthquake. It was rebuilt without the decorative brickwork that the east side has. This indicates that the church was not opposed to making significant changes to meet their budget. Further study should expose their alterations and help us address those problems specifically.



To reach the north window a boom lift must be placed in the bike lane on 3rd St., which needs approval from the city. A permit requires proof of licenses, insurance, city approval of the insurance, a city endorsement, and other logistical information. It takes quite a bit of time to gather all of the materials and for the city to process the information. The investigation days have had to be rescheduled twice because of difficulties with the paperwork. Hopefully the boom lift will be coming soon, and all of the internal metal will be revealed. We will keep you posted!

Dimensions of Dimensioning

To properly analyze the building our experts need to know the exact length, width, and height of the entire façade in a computer aided design software called AutoCAD. AutoCAD first developed in 1982 to help architects, engineers, and manufacturers make their creations into digital renderings. Since then, it has become the standard for making dimensioned drawings on the computer. The digitizing process was first started at First Church last spring when I took a course on AutoCAD with architect Ted Lambros at Long Beach City College.



With help from the archive team, a portion of the class made copies of the original 1914 drawings of the First Congregational Church. The group then used those drawings as the blueprints for their final project. For bonus points, a few dedicated students met up with Ted at First Congregational to learn how to accurately dimension a building using a measuring tape and laser-measuring device.



When our experts expressed a need for dimensioned drawings I was thrilled that these drawings could be used; however, drawings on paper are always different than what was actually built. I discovered this fact when I went around the lower façade with a measuring tape to double check the work that the students did. Unfortunately, the discrepancies were too significant to ignore so the process would have to be redone.



To properly measure the building to accurately redraw the building I recruited Sam, the building property manager. One of his past lives was as a mover so his skills with a tape measure far exceed expectations. Here are several photos of the daring feats we accomplished with the tape measure.

img_5886img_5888I will post the finished drawing soon once it is completed!

Sneak peek behind windows

This past week several lucky members of the First Church team received a behind the scenes look at where and how the rose window is being restored. Last Wednesday, Yvonne, Sam, Elena, and I drove up to the valley meet Mike Oades at his studio in Chatsworth. He greeted us in a room with a large central table covered in tracings of window designs.

These drawings, he explained, are used to help identify how the windows differ from one another. Despite being planned off of the same template, the stained glass windows are made by hand and set into wood frames that warped uniquely depending on their placement. The results are usually no more than 1/8-1/4” which might not seem like a lot but any tiny gap allows entrance to damaging elements such as rain and other pollutants. img_5918

In addition, our windows were not made according to ‘spec.’ Stained glass windows should have an exterior leading that acts as a frame to hold all of the pieces together. In our case there is little to no exterior leading and the unprotected glass sat between the wood and terracotta. Mike is adding the exterior leading so that in the future the panes will be better protected but the 3/8” displacement from the new leading has to be taken into account to re-center the designs for re-installation.


All of the east teardrop windows in storage

Once the design is outlined, the panels are moved to the other portion of his studio where all of the ‘dirty’ work happens. The windows are first left to soak in a water bath for 24-48 hours. This allows most of the grime to wash off and helps soften the leading. After this process is complete the windows are removed from their baths and the leading is removed by hand to separate the pieces. The leading in our windows is so soft from age that even without soaking it can be peeled up in most places with a pinkie finger.


The broken panes are saved and used to make patterns for new replacement pieces. Unlike many other types of artistic media, glass manufacturing has not changed much in the past 120 years so the same exact colors are still available. What has changed is our ability to manipulate and maintain exact temperatures which effects how well the stains adhere to the glass.


The cleaned non-broken pieces are first re-fired to make sure that any original stain that was not properly fired originally will be well adhered before restoration. The colors then get freshened up with new paint and re-fired. I expected huge kilns but instead found two Easy-Bake Oven look a likes, which makes sense because the pieces are re-fired while separated, not put together. img_5938

After the glass is repainted and fired several times, the pieces are laid out together like a jigsaw puzzle to be re-leaded. I was hoping the leading would come out of a machine like squeezy cheese (his assistant jumped in laughing, ‘I wish!’) but not such luck. Mike cuts the leading, bends it by hand to fit the curve of the glass shapes, and solders it back together.



The face panes are made of two pieces that get stacked on top of each other. These are the two separated pieces before repainting.


The stacked panes before and after restoration.


Here is a finished teardrop that will be on view as a contrast soon!