Saint Sophia Cathedral
1952 – Kalionzes, Klingerman & Walker
1324 South Normandie Avenue – map
The interior of Saint Sophia’s at the corner of Pico and Normandie is stunning. After three trips, I finally got a chance to get inside and take a bunch of pictures that came out okay enough. What’s a drag is the guy who was nice enough to light up the church for me also warned, “I better not see these pictures on the Internet!” His reasoning was spurious at best, and, of course, there are already oodles of Saint Sophia shots on the web (including on the cathedral’s official site) but I wound up promising the man. So I won’t post them. I mean, not only did I make a promise, but I made a promise in a church.
Charles P. Skouras, born in Greece in 1889, built a chain of theaters in St Louis with his brothers, George and Spyros. By the early 1930s, the trio had become even bigger hotshots in the entertainment business in Los Angeles. During World War II, Charles, who had gone on to become president of the National Theaters chain, felt the city’s Greek Orthodox community had outgrown its home, the Annunciation Church, at 1216 San Julian Street (coincidentally located right across the street from our previous Historic-Cultural Monument, the Cohn-Goldwater Building). So he bought the Pico and Normandie lot, located then in an area heavily populated with Greeks. Today it butts up against Koreatown.
The leaf and the grape are universal Christian symbols while the peacocks drinking from the fountain represent eternal life.
Already familiar with the brothers Skouras after building some theaters for them, Albert R. Walker went on to create the initial designs for the Byzantine cathedral, later refining the plans with his partners, Gus Kalionzes and Charles A. Klingerman. The team used as inspiration Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (was Constantinople, now it's Istanbul). That church is named not for an actual person named Sophia; in Greek, Hagia Sophia translates roughly as Holy Wisdom. So our Saint Sophia is not named after any Saint Sophia.
William T. Chavalas designed the basilica and created the paintings and decoration. Contributing artists included Jose De Soto, Bartholomew Maco, John Stich, John Tartaglia, and Frank Hutter.
The dome is 90 feet tall, 30-feet across, with two dozen windows. I counted seventeen chandeliers, containing Czechoslovakian crystals. The apse is forty-one feet high and thirty-six feet wide. The north and south walls sport stained-glass windows of the Twelve Apostles. The narthex is paved with antique marble and has walls of travertine.
Governor Earl Warren, Mayor Fletcher Bowron, and Archbishop Michael were on hand to help dedicate the two-million dollar, 900-seat cathedral on September 28, 1952. Skouras was presented with “the Ecclesiastical Medal – highest award ever bestowed on an American citizen” for making the church a reality.
Skouras didn’t get to enjoy Saint Sophia for long, dying of a heart attack in October 1954. The once-penniless Greek immigrant had become the highest-salaried executive in the world.
The cathedral was originally headquarters to an eleven-state wide Greek Orthodox jurisdiction. It's also where Telly Savalas's funeral was held in 1994.
Okay, besides the official Saint Sophia website (on the Internet) and its photo tour and link to Huell Howser’s video tour, you should also visit Francesco Cura and Deacon Eric Stoltz’s site (again, on the Internet), Cathedrals of California. They’ve got four entries on the landmark: History, The Chair, untitled, and a Wedding.
“Dedication Held at Saint Sophia's” Los Angeles Times; Sep 29, 1952, p. A1
“C.P. Skouras, Theater Head, Dies Suddenly” Los Angeles Times; Oct 23, 1954, p. 1
A.P.D. Valakis The Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Los Angeles : and, The Greek Orthodox Church, its history and its faith 1955 Los Angeles
Up next: The Garfield Building