The leasing office of the Lorena Heights Apartments was busy today with applicants eager to live in one of the 112 units of the newly constructed affordable housing complex, which held a grand opening on Wednesday. But what is now a crowded leasing office and recreation center was once filled with the faithful attending services of the First United Christian Molokan Church, which was founded by Russian Christians – some of them known as “Spiritual Jumpers” – in 1933. Three separate Molokan congregations joined to form the First United Christian Molokan Church – or the “Big Church” – that was originally located on East Third Street, according to Molokans in America. On dedication day in February 1933, members of the three congregations descended on their new church:
Each group was to regulate their departure so as to arrive at the new church building at eleven o’clock sharp. Saying their final prayers at the old locations, each group marched … through the middle of the streets with their respective presbyters in the lead holding the Opened Bible in their hands while the choir was singing the designated psalm (Psalm 121 “I rejoiced when they said unto me: ‘Let us go unto the house of the Lord’.”
In 1941, the church building was moved to a new location on Lorena Street near what is now the 60 Freeway.
The Boyle Heights congregation remained active until 2009 when it relocated to Whittier and sold the Lorena Street property to the Michaels Organization, which builds affordable housing. But part of the deal included keeping the church building on the hillside site of the $40 million project.
That was not easy task, said Laura Zane, a spokeswoman for the developer. Once construction began, the old building had to be moved four times as two, large apartment buildings, parking garages and courtyards were constructed on the property. When work was completed, the church entrance that one faced east to Lorena now faces south to Sabina Street. While the facade of the building with its tall, arched windows made of wood, remains virtually the same but the interior is totally brand new.
The Molokans may have left their Boyle Heights church behind but they remain involved as lenders, holding a $1.2 million note on the property.