BY PATRICK HEALY
By now you’ve no doubt heard Pacific Palisades is marking its 100th birthday, having been founded in 1922 by a group of forward-thinking Methodists.
You may have visited the great celebration organized by the Historical Society last May in Temescal Canyon, chronicling the community’s first century in all its facets. The speakers included Pastor Wayne, and it was a lot of fun.
But we also wanted a day to highlight and celebrate the contributions of the Methodist Church in Pacific Palisades, then and now. The day will be September 10, and all residents are welcome.
It’s no stretch to call this saga “The Town a Church Started.” In fact, that’s the title chosen by a pastor emeritus for his book on the early history of both the town and Methodism in Pacific Palisades.
The founding of our local congregation also dates to 1922 – which means this is a simultaneous centennial for both the community and the congregation, sharing their roots in a commitment to fellowship, personal improvement, and appreciation of this special place where the mountains meet the sea (to borrow another apt phrase).
Of course, it needs to be recognized that Native Americans first discovered this idyllic area. Later, in the 1800’s, the Marquez family put down roots, and later came various commercial and recreational pursuits. But apart from those endeavors and some scattered agriculture, well into the 1900’s this area was still largely undeveloped—until it caught the eye of a Methodist minister, Reverend Charles Scott.
He’d been assigned by the Southern California Methodist Conference to find a suitable site for a uniquely American type of campground gathering, combining spirituality with recreation, education, and a festival of the arts.
It was called a Chautauqua (yep, just like that boulevard), widely popular way back when, offering the kind of vacation that those with the Protestant work ethic could take without feeling guilty.
The very first Palisades Chautauqua was held in the summer of 1922. It lasted two full weeks, with many of the attendees camping out in tents.
Chautauqua is the theme of our family-friendly September 10 celebration, with games and prizes, food and singing, fun and nostalgia—a Mini-Chautauqua if you will. (No tents or camping this time, and we do plan to have everyone home for dinner!)
Holding a Chautauqua was only one aspect of the Methodist vision for this area. It also included starting a neighboring, year-round community, the enduring core of the town we enjoy today.
Then, the newly established Pacific Palisades Association bought more than a thousand acres of open land, designating a large portion for new residential neighborhoods.
On Founders Day—January 14, 1922—those interested in getting property gathered under oak trees to choose available homesites. The Association would not sell you land outright but offered 99-year leases.
When some sites were chosen by more than one founder, the names went into a hat, with Reverend Scott’s young daughter Martha pulling out the winners. That happened at the site that is preserved as the Founders Oak Island in the middle of Haverford Avenue, just a few blocks from the Methodist Church.
Another milestone event in 1922 was the first Easter Sunrise Service on Peace Hill. Hundreds gathered beyond the end of yet-to-be-paved Via de la Paz, the hilltop bare but for lilies and a large cross.
So busy were the early Methodists that they did not get around to formally establishing the local church congregation until later in the year. It was set in motion at a prayer meeting in the Chautauqua cafeteria on September 13, 1922, and became official on Christmas Eve.
The Pacific Palisades Association would add more tracts in the Palisades, but its heyday lasted only a few years before crushing financial pressures made worse by the Great Depression and land holdings were sold.
The 1930’s saw the end of both the Palisades Chautauqua and the Easter Sunrise Service. The Association went under, but community and church survived.
The first phase of church construction and the historic tower did get finished early in 1930, but for two decades, services were held in the multi-purpose room/auditorium now called Tauxe Hall, until the sanctuary was built. The midcentury modern front was added in the late 1960’s.
The onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020 setback in person involvement, but the church maintains a commitment to engaging with the community and serving needs. In that spirit, we hope you enjoy a taste of the Chautauqua that so epitomized the founders’ era a century ago, and appreciate the history that led to the wonderful community we enjoy today.
And when you step outside, take a look at the simple cross atop the church tower, and see if you can picture it amid Easter Lilies on Peace Hill a hundred years ago.
(Editor’s note: the cross that originally stood on Peace Hill now graces the church, and overlooks the town as it rotates. It is lit at night.)