On September 16, 1888 the Rev. C. S. Sprecher organized the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church on the corner of Garnet Avenue and Jewel Street. A lemon packing house was moved to the site and it became the first building for our Church.
Read Edith Barron's full story below...
PB Pres is a community of disciples seeking to glorify God, to grow in Christ, and to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are called to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to be a place of worship, healing and prayer, and to further God's kingdom in the world. We commit ourselves to:
A Century of Grace and Growth
by Edith Barron
My name is Phoenix Canariensis. That’s an odd name so most folks call me a Canary Island Date Palm. That’s all right though, after all I am a Palm tree and I live and grow in the patio of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church.
I really don’t know where I came from but that’s not important because new life began for me in 1915 when the Ladies Aid Society transplanted me to beautify the barren sandy soil around their church.
All these years I have grown and become a part of this church family both in its periods of sadness and in its celebration of good times. I wish I could have been here in 1888 when the Church was first organized. I have heard many stories about the early days.
In 1888 San Diego news circulated that Thomas A. Edison was personally supervising the most extensive wiring job west of New York City for the new Hotel del Coronado. The idea of electric lighting was so unbelievable that a sign was placed next to the gas lamps in every room. It read, “this room is equipped with the Edison Electric light. Do not attempt to light with a match.”
Pacific Beach was still a small village then including some 37 families. There were 17 churches in the county. Land agents were paying $10 per acre and reselling regular size lots for $25.
The San Diego Union dated Sunday, Sept. 16, 1888 carried a front page story covering the symptoms and treatment of yellow fever, and a classified column advertising the opening of the San Diego College of Letters in Pacific Beach. The ad said, “Full college courses will be offered to both sexes in clerical, scientific, literary, musical and art studies.”
It was on this same day that the Rev. C. S. Sprecher, the financial analyst at the college, organized the Pacific Beach Community Church. There were nine members present with representative from the First Presbyterian Church of San Diego, the Home Mission Board, Presbytery and Synod.
Rev. Sprecher became the Stated Supply, which I learned to mean that Presbytery chose the pastor with the consent of the congregation. Church meetings were held in homes.
March 11, 1889 the Board of Trustees deeded four lots on the corner of Garnet and Jewell to the Church. A lemon packing house was moved to the site on May 11, 1890 and it became the first building for our Church. A communion set was added and the sacraments became a part of worship.
By 1902 there were 40 telephones in Pacific Beach, and sometimes as many as 10 homes on a party line. The Church grew along with the community. Records show 50 members, two ruling elders and 59 in Sunday School. The Rev. William Johnston was the stated supply minister and was replaced by Rev. Halsey W. Clark in 1904. He served from 1904 to 1907 and again from 1910 to 1914.
His daughter, Edith Clark Macy, as a young girl recalls: “ I know my father moved here from Kansas about 1903 or 1904. My father organized the Presbyterian Church in La Jolla in 1904. Then he was Stated Supply until 1907. That was the year I joined the Church. That’s the year I was born, 1907. Then in 1910 to 1914 my father pastured, then in the spring of 1914 we moved to Colorado and the Millars moved into our home and stayed until we came back at the end of World War I. My father, I remember seeing him at the pulpit preaching and my mother was at the organ playing the old pump organ. I just remember personal things like when we would go down. I was just a toddler. We would open up the dark church…no plumbing, electricity and we would go into the dark church and all they had for lighting were brackets around the wall for kerosene lamps, and my father would go around and light the kerosene lamps and when they began to light up there would be bats flying around and the bats would fly around from time to time during the service.”
From the beginning the Pacific Beach Community Church had a strong young people’s group. Most of the social events were held in homes.
Parents were strict but there were many joint meetings between the La Jolla and Pacific Beach youth groups.
Transportation was difficult by today’s standards. The San Diego & Pacific Beach Railway was completed to the end of Grand Street, then later extended to La Jolla and renamed to the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla Railway. A doctor who lived in Bird Rock called on his patients in Pacific Beach by horse and buggy.
In 1910 Col. Davis started the Army Navy Academy with 13 students in the Balboa Hotel, the former College of Letters Building, across the street from the Church. Both Col. and Mrs. Davis participated in the Church program. Many people remember that Mrs. Davis was a devoted teacher. She taught an adult class and often sang special music with the Colonel.
Some of the names of those who helped to sustain the Church financially, and lent their support in other ways, included Mr. J. J. Richert, a good businessman and very generous.
Mrs. Richert was president of both the Ladies Aid and the Missionary Society. Almost from the beginning she taught a Sunday School class. She made a liberal donation to start the building fund for a new sanctuary. Both served as officers of the Church.
Tom Scripps was a trustee and his mother was active in the Women’s groups. They were a part of the Scripps newspaper family and helped the struggling Church in many special ways.
Lucy Woodward came to the Church in 1906. She taught the Adult Bible Class and served in the Women’s groups. She was a trustee, a strong leader, and her influence was felt everywhere both in the community and in the Church.
Dean Dugger told of coming home from Board of Trustees meetings some nights chilled to the bone because Mrs. Woodward insisted we do not need heat in Southern California.
Money bequeathed by Miss Kate Liscum in 1911 was used to install electric lights, pulpit chairs and communion service. A silver Baptismal Bowl bears her name.
By the time that Dr. J. W. Millar came as stated supply minister in 1914 the Beach population had begun to decline. When I came to be planted in 1915, people were still feeling the influence of World War I. Pacific Beach boasted of having 30,000 lemon trees and was considered the lemon capital of the world.
Dr. Millar served until 1927 during the Matoon Act. The Causeway across the bay from Crown Point to Midway Drive made the area more accessible. The problem came when one individual could not pay his taxes. It was added to his neighbor’s bill. No one wanted to buy in Pacific Beach with this restriction.
The Church experienced a slow growth from a low point of 15 communicate members. The first Deacons were elected in 1917.
Ella M. Towne was active in the Women’s organization, and she was a Sunday School Teacher. In 1919 she willed her home to the Church. Calvin Hall and the Educational Building now stand on that property. For many years the Missionary Society, Sunday School classes and potluck dinners were held there.
There were 500 people in Pacific Beach in 1920. An Annex was added to the original Church building in 1921 and gave more space for the primary grades, Christian endeavor, prayer meetings and socials.
I began to see more people in the Church yard. In 1923 there were 56 members and 121 in Sunday School. A bungalow was purchased from the Army and Navy Academy for preschool class and it was used consistently.
This was the year that the Scout Troop 59 was organized. Later on the Church assumed sponsorship which has continued to this day.
The Rev. Wm. McCoy was called to be the pastor in 1928. He acted as Chaplain of the army & Navy Academy and many Church Services were held there. For the first time, the congregation assumed all of the pastor’s salary, independent of the Missionary support it had received since 1888.
The depression came along about this time and had its effect on the Church. Dr. McCoy contracted to work for a yearly salary of $2,000 but was not paid much of the time. The Treasurer, Mr. Wright, would have to go to Rev. McCoy and say, “Sorry, no money.”
Rev. McCoy would have to draw from his meager savings to carry his family through these difficult times. Fortunately, he had a wealthy brother in South Africa who supplemented his salary. He also bought Rev. McCoy a car so that he no longer had to walk wherever he went. Many dedicated members have grown spiritually through the Church. Dean and Prudence Dugger came to the beach when Dean was made principal of the Pacific Beach Elementary School. They joined the Church in 1933.
Margaret McCoy Bryden recalls
“ It was really meaningful to our family to have the Duggers because you know here he was a layman but a Christian, and I don’t mean a Presbyterian just a Christian and it was really great –we saw him during the day—during the week and there he was there on Sunday and that was very special to all the McCoys.”
The Wilson sisters remember when Rev. Edward H. Krapp was Stated Supply. They were young people active in Christian Endeavor, and their group had planned a trip to the mountains. “Uncle Ed”, as their minister was called, said that he would let them out early if they would stay for congregational worship. In the middle of a sentence during his sermon he looked at the clock and said, “I’ll finish this next week. I promised my young people I’d let them out early. When you have a group of faithful young people like mine, who do much for the church, you are happy to have a chance to do something for them,” We sang one verse of the closing hymn and we were on our way.
Dorothy Warren Nipper was four years old when she first came to the Church in 1921. Her parents moved away, returning later. She has served on the Church boards, participated in Women’s work and made a strong contribution to the Christian Education Program.
Dorothy Warren Nipper recalls
“As I was sitting in church this morning I realized what a rich heritage I’d had in Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church over the last 67 years. As a small child I was accepted, encouraged and supported. In later years I had many experiences and training in Christian education and had many opportunities to grow in my Christian faith, and to learn more about God’s will for my life. The most outstanding was the time that I had the opportunity to attend a Westminster conference in Occidental College during my junior year in high school. At the end of the meeting we were given the opportunity to share our experiences during that week, and one of the girls whose father was a missionary in China told about how she had watched the Chinese behead her father, and how bad she felt and how much warmth the people there had given she and her family. I always thought that I wanted to have the faith and courage of that girl.”
Prudence Dugger had her vision expanded when she first attended a conference for women at Purdue University. She went on to serve for many years at various Church levels from local to national. Prudence Dugger recalls:
"There was a great experience that I had at the first national meeting of United Presbyterian Women at Purdue University in 1954. There we had missionaries from across the world and a large number of Presbyterian women gathering at the foot of the cross, a huge cross, and the background with beautiful lighting; and Rosa Paige Welch stepped forward in saying "He's got the whole world in his hands". I got a picture of a world wide church that I had never quite comprehended before and the scriptures took on new and glorious aspect this week and we hard the stories of people who kept the faith during World War II in war torn countries and the Korean War. We also heard of women who went out and gathered cow dung and sold it in India in order to give something to keep the church going in their country. All of this was humbling to me and the whole picture of our church working across the world took on new meaning and I came away with a feeling that I had had a terrific mountain top experience and life would never be the same,” Ms. Dugger recalls. Palm tree: Personally, I have always felt a sense of excitement when young people and adults have returned from conferences and retreats. They come back with new energy, new perspectives and broader vision. I don't always get the full story, but I know that something wonder happens when the Church trains its people.
Brown Military Academy
During the depression, in 1937, the Army & Navy Academy was sold to the John Brown Schools. The name was changed to the Brown Military Academy.
The second pastor to be called was the Rev. Dwight Ball. He came in 1939, fresh out of Seminary. Skilled in wood caring, he made a number of pieces around the Church, including an alter which he decorated with sheep. That year brought the election of three Elders and instituted the Rotary System. Before this, only one or two Elders were active at one time.
By 1940 World War II was bringing changes to the Beach and in the Church. There was a sudden influx of people. Vacation Church School and a nursery were started.
Eva Clover accepted the position of organist, a position she held for thirty-five years.
Sanctuary: Later enlarged, a new Sanctuary was built for $12,000 and dedicated in September 1941. First Church of San Diego gave the pews, but the electronic organ and other chancel equipment brought the total coast to $16.000.
Dean Dugger talks about the church building, “The way we got started on our present Church building, was Mrs. Richert gave $2,500 to start, and we had to raise $16,000 and it was quite a job, let me tell you, but the $2,500 started if off.”
Temporary housing was built to accommodate the 30,000 people who moved into the Beach for the war effort. Charles Sacchette was sent here by the Board of National Missions to assist Rev. Ball. He was later ordained, the first person ever to be ordained in this Church for the Gospel Ministry. By 1945, Church membership had grown to 345 and there were 789 in the Church School. This included classes at the Bayview Terrace and Los Altos housing projects.
The Rev. H. W. Van Delinder came in 1944 and served until 1949. This was during the peak of the war. Potluck dinners were held weekly. Dean Dugger signed the charger of Boy Scout Troop 59 establishing the Church's sponsorship of the Troop. The Church affiliated with the San Diego Council of Churches and the name of the church was changed from the Community Presbyterian Church to the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church.
The Women's Association was organized with eight geographical circles. This absorbed the Ladies Aid, Missionary Society and Young Women's Guild into one efficient group under the supervision of the National Church.
In 1948 Calvin Hall was completed. The church moved to three services on Sunday. Buses were used to transport children to church School from the housing projects. A Sunday school was started in Mission Beach sponsored by this Church.
Faith and Life
The Faith and Life Curriculum was introduced and the Church School flourished. Youth groups were large and active. From a strong Adult Church School Class a Mariner Club was organized. The class also started the Church Library.
Mrs. Richert donated the first books and Bob Rathmann made the bookshelves. Later the Sub Mariners was organized for younger couples.
The Cruiser Club began in 1953, making a total of three Mariner clubs. I have always liked to see these busy couples happily working at the church and enjoying their fellowship.
For the first time, the denomination allowed women Elders. Lucy Woodward and Mrs. Richert were elected to the office. "An honor well deserved," some said.
The Rev. Seth Parker came in 1949 and served until 1957. A Chapel at Camp Callan was moved to the parking lot and became a multipurpose building. It was used for office, Sunday school classes, Scouts, and now a work shop and C.C.S.A.
A Fisherman's Club was organized, and it operated largely for men. Other men's groups existed for short periods through out the history of the Church.
The Mariner Club sponsored two Indonesian refugee Families.
The Friendship Club was organized and the Church library expanded.
In 1954 the Christian Education Building was dedicated and the National Church changed its name to United Presbyterian Church U.S.
In the Community an average house sold for $15,00. The Beach had its own High School and a new library building. The Brown Military Academy sold its properties and moved out of the Beach. Stark white Barracks and green parade grounds were replaced with shopping centers and apartments. The Beach population was 35,000 and the Church felt the density that surrounded it.
We are always proud when we see some of our own inspired to go into the ministry such as Joe Francis and Charles McLain.
The Reverend Jo Roth came to the Church in 1957.
In 1960 the Sunday school room back of the stage in Calvin Hall was remodeled to become Knox Chapel with memorial funds and the efforts of Ray Clark.
One Sunday in 1963 I heard some strange noises across the alley and a lot of people around a man with a big hammer. It turned out that they were breaking ground for expanding Calvin Hall and adding a second floor for classrooms.
Then there was discussion about increasing the size of the Sanctuary. Now that had me worried because I didn't know what would become of me. I was relived when Kurt Durst, chairman of the building committee, said that they could do whatever they wanted to do to remodel the sanctuary so long as they DIDN'T TOUCH THE PALM TREE!
All of that construction around me was still nerve wracking. It was a great comfort when Dr. Roth opened a Bible on the lectern and insisted that it remain open throughout the construction. It was soon covered with dust and the workmen were concerned, but it was never closed or removed. Dr. Roth said, "We must remember this is God's House."
Palm Tree: I had become accustomed to living without other Palms, and I had become attached to the congregation. I thought then, as I have many times before and since, that this is an energetic, caring, loving Church. I felt almost human when the men who pruned me said that they were giving me a haircut for the dedication of the new Sanctuary.
On Sunday, October 24, 1965 the remodeled sanctuary was dedicated by Dr. Roth who said: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we do now declare this building to be set apart and consecrated to the worship and service of almighty God, to whom be glory and majesty, dominion and power for ever and ever. AMEN."
This church continues to fulfill its ministry through the spiritual growth of its members. Many are seen reaching out with their concerns beyond the needs of the local community. Dick and Verna Cuthbert left to become Fraternal workers in Guatemala. They served in three Spanish-speaking countries for a total of 18 years.
Walt and Bernice Miner were our first overseas volunteers in Mission. “Working as volunteers in mission brought great joy and satisfaction to us. This type of service is open to those who are willing and able to leave their homes and participate in activities involving our Church’s mission. We happen to be stationed in far away places, Egypt, Ethiopia and India. But there are many areas of service in different locations where persons with varying abilities can perform needed services as volunteers in mission,” Walt Miner said.
More recently, Roy Capper and Peg Hollenbeck became Volunteers in Mission in the United States.
In 1968 the Los Angeles Presbytery was divided and San Diego had its first Presbytery. The decision was made at our church and Dr. Roth became the first moderator. The San Diego Presbyterian was then organized and Prudence Dugger was the first president. Later she became the first woman to be elected moderator of Synod.
When Dr. Roth retired in 1970, membership peaked at 1200, the highest it had been in 100 years.
By the time Dr. Charles Eaton came to be the pastor in 1973, the beach was changing fast. Apartments were replacing single-family homes. Couples with children were moving out of the beach for less expensive dwellings. The Church School declined. Educational buildings were no longer filled. Still vacant lots were hard to find.
People talked about he Vietnam War, inflation and Watergate. In the Church the session changed to the Unicameral System and the Mustard Seed Players performed bringing biblical history alive. They made use of drama in interpreting events in bible study. The Caring Ministry was initiated.
Ray Capper, who grew up in the Church, was ordained for the gospel ministry in 1976.
The first of six Interns who served in the Church arrived. The Preschool was started. An adult study program began.
Sue Cornell initiated microchips, a program for students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades.
A branch of the Ecumenical Christian Community Services Center was established in the building on the alley. Food and clothing is still given to the hungry and needy on a short-term basis, five days a week.
Beginning in 1983, Vic Brown and Carl Hovland organized some retired men known as the Wednesday Work Crew who volunteer their services for work on the buildings and grounds. They work one day each week giving the Church a face-lift and attending to repair needs.
The Rev. Larry Grounds answered a call to the Church in 1985, and later the Rev. Jeff Sievert joined staff to serve as the Associate Minister. The Church has supported an Intern and seven part-time members on staff.
John Hasenjaeger and David Rowe have been ordained for the gospel ministry at the church.
Once again young families are returning to the beach and nearby communities. Through the influence of Rev. Grounds and his young family, parents with children are joining the congregation once again. Participation is strong. The Preschool has been revitalized, and a Mom’s Club is flourishing. The Wednesday Work Crew has remodeled the nursery.
The Church is a regular supporter of the Shelter Network program of San Diego. Two Vietnamese families have been sponsored, and Shared Vision, a project to envision the Church five years in the future has been started. There are several youth groups and they are all strong. A singles group has been organized.
A new and exciting curriculum has emerged from the National Union of Presbyterian Churches. I have noted through the years that when the national Church is strong, the local churches have grown. Changes are everywhere.
Palm Tree: I now live on the busiest street in all of San Diego. I am completely surrounded by businesses and apartments. Parking is a problem. People from the streets sometimes sleep in this patio, giving testimony to the gravity of the times. I hear the secretaries talking about the new computer in the office, video and VCR.
Young people and children join for congregational worship each week. There are several children’s choirs, bell choirs, chancel choir and even an occasional choir. Chimes have recently been added in the bell tower.
Some say that the life of a Canary Date Palm is about 80 years. I know that I shall soon complete my cycle of life. The men seem to know it too. They are giving me extra attention, love and care so characteristic of this church. I even see a new family of palm trees in the refurbished patio, thanks to memorial gifts.
I look back these days and think of the church as God has built it. It is still a center of community serving the needs of Pacific Beach as it has always done, and reaching far beyond the community with better acceptance and understanding. The church is dynamic with strong lay leadership.
I see its people at worship, in fellowship, at study and in mission. And I am convinced that as long as this congregation believes in Christ and equips itself to witness to its faith in word and mission it will go forward. It gives me great happiness and hope to see the children playing around my area. I know that their heritage is healthy. The foundations are firm.
Now with the members of this church, I say goodbye to 100 years of grace and growth. I have never wanted to be human. Nature has its own way of knowing God. But today I wish I were human just long enough to enter the sanctuary and offer my thanks to Jesus Christ with this congregation in celebration and worship.
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