It was about 20 years ago when pastor Juan Argueta opened a church amid the auto repair shops and forgotten stores that lined a stretch of Sunset Boulevard wedged between the hills of Silver Lake. Here, the Iglesia de Cristo Elim drew hundreds of Spanish-speaking congregants to worship under the bluffs topped by homes and apartments. At its peak, the church counted as many as 450 members, said Argueta. But as Silver Lake and surrounding neighborhoods began to gentrify and grow more expensive, worshipers moved out to other parts of the county and country, places like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Argueta said he knows of an entire extended family that took flight to Utah. With his own Silver Lake church dwindling to about 250 members, Argueta decided to relocate the Iglesia de Cristo Elim and lease the building to a new tenant – a beauty school. “Twenty years ago this was a Hispanic area,” Argueta said outside his former church, now being gutted. “Not anymore.”
The changes that have transformed the hills of Silver Lake into expensive housing finally began to trickle down to the canyon where Argueta once preached in Spanish. Restaurants, high end bakeries, salons, and boutiques have filled the hodgepodge of buildings between Micheltorena and Descano streets. There is even valet parking. Inside the former church, sleek new windows are being installed and it appears as if the arched, bow truss ceiling – a fixture of any cool renovated former warehouse or factory – is being stripped of paint in preparation for the new tenant, GoldBear Academy, which expects to move in by the end of the month.
Argueta and his church, however, were not forced out by some greedy landlord cashing in on Silver Lake chic. The Iglesia de Cristo Elim owns the building and adjacent storefronts. Argueta simply wants to be closer to his parishioners and potential new members. That’s why Argueta said he decided to join the migration of his former congregants out of Silver Lake and closed the church last month. Expect the new Iglesia de Cristo Elim to open soon – in Van Nuys.
Photos by The Eastsider