History
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Revised December, 2011

 

1852 — Augustus Timms buys what is now downtown San Pedro from the Sepulveda clan, an ancient land grant family in California. Timms uses this property to build "Timm's Landing", the terminus of a stage coach line from the harbor to Los Angeles. This line carried passengers, pelts, and lumber for several decades. A German immigrant, steam ship captain, and natural entrepreneur, Timms would later chair our church's board. His monument lies in the exact geographical center of San Pedro's first cemetery.

 

1869 — William Banning completes a rail link from Los Angeles to the neighboring city of Wilmington, thus making that city the shipping hub of Southern California. But the waist-deep channel to Wilmington is so shallow that most ships had to dock in the outer harbor and send their cargo upstream to the rail yard on rowboats. It will take another 13 long years before these rail lines are extended to San Pedro.

 

1883 — Pastor William Fackler of Calvary Presbyterian Church in Wilmington exhorts a small crowd to begin a Christian Church in San Pedro. Six women (including his sister) and one man agree. They begin with a Children's Sunday School Outreach on April 1 of that year, and charter the First Presbyterian Church of San Pedro on November 25.

 

1888 — William Waddell becomes the first full-time pastor. A simple clapboard building is constructed at the corner of 7th and Palos Verdes Streets, and Mr. Timms donates a sturdy bell. Adult membership remains small, but the Sunday School program thrives, reaching 190 children within 5 years. Nonetheless, there are four saloons for every church in the newly incorporated city of San Pedro, and every Monday brings a funeral from some brawl.

 

1894 — Albert Frazier begins a 5 year pastorate at First Church. During this era, San Pedro is formally selected as the official harbor of Los Angeles, and rapid migration to San Pedro almost closes the Wilmington church. Thus, Calvary Wilmington and First San Pedro share one pastor for many years. Meanwhile, the Pastor's Study at First Pres houses a growing book collection that civic leaders will eventually use to start San Pedro's first public library.

 

1905 — William Mills begins a 13 year tenure as pastor of First Church. During this era, our old church building was sold to the Elks Club, and a handsome new sandstone church was constructed at the corner of 10th and Mesa. After repeated requests, Rev. Mills also secured a $3,000 matching grant from Andrew Carnegie to supply the new building with a grand pipe organ. A good friend from Pasadena brings in another $2,000, and church women supply the rest.

 

1917 — Stewart MacLennon begins a brief but thrilling tenure at First Presbyterian Church. During the 4 years of his ministry, youth rallies are held throughout the city, and church membership almost triples to 347. Then, Rev. MacLennon is wooed by the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, where he builds a congregation of several thousand members. At First Hollywood, Rev. MacLennon hires the legendary Henrietta Mears as Christian Education Director, and he launches a nationwide radio ministry. Each broadcast ended with his signature remark: "Only one life, soon 'tis past--only what's done for Christ will last."

 

1924 — Martin Luther Thomas begins a 6 year tenure at First church. Highlights of this era include the completion of a fellowship hall in our church basement and the city's first radio ministry, broadcast on the airwaves of KFVD, San Pedro's first and only radio station. Almost 1/3 of the church's budget went to this bold, new endeavor, and Rev. Thomas developed quite a reputation as a "pro" prohibition preacher. His most famous sermon was titled "Al Smith, Rum and Rebellion!" Rev Thomas created quite a stir, but he failed to quench the thirst for repeal.

 

1931 — Bill Darsie begins a 10 year pastorate of loving care that helps many church members weather the Great Depression. A highlight of this era was the church's 50th anniversary party held in 1933. Rev. Darcy chaired the ecumenical council of San Pedro for many years, and he was keenly aware of distressing trends throughout the world. He left to become a navy chaplain near the start of World War II.

 

1941 — Andrew MacCormick begins a 17 year tenure that became a "golden era" for the church. Shortly after this newly-ordained preacher began to work in our congregation, Hannon Jeans, a very wise elder, told the enthusiastic Rev. MacCormick to spend his time building relationships in the community while allowing church volunteers to run the office. Rev. MacCormick followed this advice, conducting at least 1,200 home visits every single year. He wasn't "pushy," by any means, but he was charming, and he developed a wonderful rapport with young adults.

 

Meanwhile, our city was teaming with young adults during and after the Second World War. In addition to soldiers and sailors stationed in San Pedro, the harbor employed almost 90,000 people building ships. Soon, our congregation swelled beyond the capacity of our building, and new property was purchased "up the hill" at the corner of 8th & Averill. A Greek Revival education building was dedicated in 1950, and a large brick sanctuary was completed in 1954. Another highlight of this era was the creation of our "Mariners" ministry, a social and spiritual outreach which forged deep and lasting relationships among young families. At one time, our church had four different Mariners "clubs" and over 500 adult members in this ministry.

 

1958 — Henry Greene begins a 6 year tenure during which the church dedicated a new bell tower and 6 stained glass windows. During this era, the church was known throughout the city for its wonderful choirs (including several groups for children) and its excellent youth ministry. We also added a music/social wing for both children and adults.

 

1967 — Ed Couch begins a brief, exciting tenure as Pastor of First Church. During the three years of his ministry, membership swelled to over 1500 persons. After leaving First Church, the personable Rev. Couch spent several years as the chief development officer of Oberlin College.

 

1970 — Karl Christ begins a 5 year tenure as Pastor of First Church. This was an era of controversy that reflected the political, economic, and cultural struggles of our nation. Church membership was cut in half, but there were important gains: the founding of the FISH food pantry for the poor, the creation of San Pedro's first Meals on Wheels program, and the development of the Harbor Area Halfway Houses for ex-convicts from Terminal Island. This era also brought the dedication of a grand, new pipe organ in 1972.

 

1976 — Malcolm Lovell begins a 13 year tenure as pastor of our church. Dr. Lovell was known as an excellent preacher who valued community ministry and traditional worship. During this area, the church's food pantry grew into Harbor Interfaith, a city-wide food and shelter ministry that started in our basement. San Pedro's Meals on Wheels program took up much of our church kitchen, and we began to house a strong, co-operative preschool in the Christian Education wing. With the strong encouragement of Rupert Loyd, Dr Lovell also began a bold visitation program called "Evangelism Explosion."

 

1992 — Bill & Margaret Steele begin a 10 year tenure of encouragement to our church. Major initiatives in both men's and women's ministries were taken in this era. Several parts of our church building were renovated following a mysterious fire, and several new stained glass panels were installed in the chancel. A Thanksgiving Basket Program for needy families was created, and a thorough mission plan was developed.

 

2004 — Neal Neuenschwander begins his tenure at First Church. Rev. Neuenschwander is known as a thoughtful listener and a creative preacher with a record of innovation through church teams. The first fruit of this approach has been the Alpha ministry that began in January of 2006. The second fruit was the Mission Facilitation Team that funded several important changes to our property, including a major sanctuary renovation completed in October of 2011. The third fruit was the Acts 16:5 process, which has launched several "Action Learning Teams" to enhance the social and spiritual life of our church.



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