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Saint Ambrose Church
Life of St Ambrose

The Altar Mural
St Ambrose School

The History of St. Ambrose Church

In the early morning of Sunday, November 26, 1922
-- only a few short hours after the lights on its marquee proclaiming a current popular flicker and been dimmed -- the doors of a small movie house called the Granada Theatre near Sunset and Gardner Street were opened by a young priest named Father Thomas N. O'Toole. To the handful of souls who gathered there that morning, he was -- and is still -- the founding pastor of St. Ambrose Parish.

There, in that theatre on a portable altar brought along by Father O'Toole and set up by him on the diminutive stage, before a tiny crucifix which made a silhouette upon the ghostly pallor of the silver screen behind it, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated for the first time in St. Ambrose Parish.

It might be deemed almost fitting that movie house should become the first place of worship for St. Ambrose Parish when one remembers that the word Hollywood was to become a world-famous synonym for an industry that would attract millions to this city. But if the Holy Ghost saw a certain whimsical appropriateness in guiding the first members of St. Ambrose to a "picture show" for their first Mass, the outlook for the pastor and his small flock that Sunday morning was a little bleak.

The rental for the theatre for the privilege of saying two Masses on Sunday was $50.00 per month.

The collection on that first Sunday was $25.75.

The Altar at St Ambrose Church during the Christmas holidays, showing the 21 foot mural by John H. de Rosen.
  Confessions had to be heard at the side of the stage. At the solemn moments of the Mass, the faithful had to kneel in the theatre aisles. The subject and tenor of Father O'Toole's sermon on that first Sunday was not recorded for posterity.

The first temporary rectory was at 1424 North Spaulding Avenue, rented unfurnished at $115.00 per month. In the fall of 1923 Father O'Toole bought a house and lot at 1265 North Fairfax, where the school building now stands, and continued to live there until 1929. Later this bungalow was sold and moved to Roscoe, California.

The first attempt to provide a more fitting home for Divine Service centered on plans to acquire the frame building which had served as the original Blessed Sacrament Church at Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee Avenue. This had become available due to the building of the present church at Sunset Boulevard and Cherokee. However, this project was abandoned because of the excessive cost entailed in moving the building.

In the meantime, the lots where the original church once stood were purchased, and in December of 1923 ground was broken for the building of the first St. Ambrose Church. Mr. Ross Montgomery was the architect.

Work progressed swiftly, and the original St. Ambrose Church was blessed and opened for Divine Service with High Mass at 5:30am on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1924 -- almost seventeen months to the day after the First Mass had been celebrated in the parish.

The church was formally dedicated and the Sacrament of Confirmation administered by the Most Reverend John J. Cantwell, D.D., on May 18, 1924.

Although it may be difficult to visualize, the land bordering the church -- what is now the convent, rectory, church and parking lot -- was a thriving avocado grove, in the midst of which stood a large, two-story frame farmhouse, with an adjoining barn and hayloft. It is no secret that even then, in those early days when the paint was hardly dry on his new church, the good pastor of St. Ambrose used to look over the fence separating him from those lots and eye them with prayerful longing.

But five years were to elapse before that highly desirable property was to be acquired for the glory of God and the expansion of St. Ambrose Parish.

On the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th, 1929, while Father O'Toole was celebrating the ten o'clock Mass, the long negotiations to acquire title to these lots was culminated through Father's agents, and a greater St. Ambrose Parish was in the making.

Father O'Toole left the house at 1265 North Fairfax and moved into the farmhouse. Only minor remodeling and redecorating was required to convert it into a fairly adequate rectory.

La Pieta, statue in the main church at St. Ambrose.
  The barn became a combination garage, workshop and storage room. It was finally razed to make way for the building of the present church. At the time of the demise of the barn the following ode was presented by one of the good nuns:

Eulogy To The Barn
Low lies each stately pillar
Of a barn that calls to mind
The memory of a rubbish heap
And smells of every kind.
Fond and final farethewell
Bid you goodbye - we must.
We?ll think of you with each new dawn
As we rise from out your dust.
Life for you was full and plenty
And each event we've shared.
So, now, today, we'll celebrate

To show how much we cared! The parish had steadily grown larger as the residential section of the city moved west, and Father O'Toole had long seen the urgent need for a parish school. And so it was in early February 1935, request for permission to build was made of the Most Reverend Bishop John J. Cantwell. This permission was forthcoming on May 20th.

On June 3rd a fund-raising campaign was initiated under a committee whose treasurer was Edward R. Donovan, still a parishioner of St. Ambrose. Within ten days a sum of $6,500.00 had been pledged, and the firm of Newton & Murray was instructed to prepare the plans.

St Ambrose in a double stained glass window, framed by a hanging alter lamp.
  Ground was blessed and broken on July 17th and construction began on the Feast of St. Anne, July 26th, 1935. The school was ready for occupancy in November of that same year.

A little less than two years later the then 15-year old parish erected the present convent. The plans were drawn by H. Carlton Newton, a parishioner who later attained the rank of Brigadier-General in the United States Army. Construction was begun on May 20, 1937 and completed on October 8th of that same year.

During this construction, Father O'Toole vacated the rectory so it could serve the Sisters as a convent, and -- for the second time in his career as pastor of St. Ambrose -- he set up his rectory in a rented house, this time directly across from the school.

For the next dozen years the parish focused on building a new church and rectory.

Finally, on July 26, 1949 construction began on the new rectory according to plans drawn up by Beatty & Clar, Consulting Engineers. By a remarkable coincidence, this was again the Feast of St. Anne, the same day that construction had begun on the school.

Throughout that summer, autumn and early winter, the classic lines of the long awaited rectory took shape before the eyes of the parishioners, and finally on January 18, 1950 Father O'Toole and Father John C. Hughes, the assistant pastor, left the old house which had in turn been farmhouse, rectory, convent, and again rectory, and set up residence in their permanent home.

The old rectory was sold at auction in December 1949 and was moved from the grounds to Venice, California where it served as a home for a family with six children. On the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Our Blessed Mother, March 31, 1950, preliminary preparation of the site for the new church was begun. The plans, as designed by Beatty & Clar, had long since been approved and the contract awarded to J. A. McNeil Company.

On April 30, 1950, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Archbishop J. Francis A. McIntyre, blessed the earth from which the new edifice would rise, and turned the first spade to mark the climax of the Ground Breaking Ceremony.

At eight o'clock on Saturday morning, February 17, 1951, Father O'Toole celebrated the last Mass in the Old Church.

The Steeple of St Ambrose.
  The climax of this chapter in the eventful history of St. Ambrose Parish came on Trinity Sunday, May 20th, 1951. Preceded by an honor guard of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus, attended by an impressive group of monsignori and priests, His Excellency, J. Francis A. McIntyre, Archbishop of Los Angeles, passed between rows of reverent and prayerful nuns, Holy Name men of the parish, Girl Scouts of the school, and parishioners, to stand before the doors of the emptied church. There, at 10:15 in the morning, under a sun that seemed to shed its own warm benediction, he began the Church's inspiring ceremonies of formal dedication.

Msgr. Bernard J. Dolan gave the sermon, taking as his text the gospel for Trinity Sunday, Matthew 28, 18-20. He called attention to the mural in the church as an impressive visualization of the Triune God, the dedication of this new church as yet another step in the ever-onward march of the Church to fulfill the mission entrusted to her by Christ, and ended with an eloquent plea to the members of this parish to continue their work and zeal in Catholic Action.

It is not without significance that its patron is St. Ambrose, for in most of the portraits of this truly great saint, he is shown with a bee-hive, symbolic of his industry. May we hope for a continuance of the zeal and energy of our parishioners who have wrought so much -- here in this small portion of His vineyard -- for the greater glory of God.

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