Larry Battin, a resident of Tujunga, was only 9 years old when First Baptist Church, La Crescenta (FBCLC), broke ground for an expansion of worship facilities in 1964.
All of the schoolteachers were excited, he recalled, as they brought their students over to witness the big event. Hundreds of people were lined up. And since he was a little boy, Battin said, he got to stand right up in front of the crowd of people.
“There’s a picture, and he’s up front,” confimed Verna Bates, a resident of Glendale who, along with Battin, attended the groundbreaking 50 years ago this week. “I think there were two people between us.”
It was a nice day, jacket weather, Bates and Battin said.
Although the weather in the Crescenta Valley has been far from cool this week, the FBCLC congregation gathered for a Hawaiian-themed luncheon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking of 1964, which allowed the church to expand into new facilities. “It was sunny and bright,” Battin said. “I just remember so much excitement about it. It was something that the people had been working on for so long. It was a big dream that was actually happening.”
Church member Colette Bates and Battin grew up attending FBCLC, where she was a member of the youth choir, “Sounds of Purpose.” FBCLC, Colette said, was the church for youth to go in La Crescenta, given its proximity to the high school. Colette and Battin are both Crescenta Valley High School alumni.
While Colette does not recall the actual groundbreaking, she does recall how crowded the old facilities used to be.
“We were full,” she said.
At its peak in 1964, FBCLC boasted over 2,000 families. The original church facilities existed where The Ark youth ministry facilities exist today. Before long, the church ran out of space to house its weekly worship services, even after increasing to two services every Sunday.
The church continued to have two services, even after the new facilities were built, recalled Colette.
“We were so crammed into our little facilities, to actually be breaking ground on something so large was just unbelievable,” Battin said. “The intent of building such a large building was to go back to one service and one Sunday school hour. But the church was growing so rapidly we weren’t able to do that.”
The building was completed in about a year, Battin added.
When they first joined the church in 1964, Tore and Virginia Johnson were a newlywed couple who found FBLC ideal for growing children. The church had a flourishing youth program and an association with Crescenta Valley High School.
“We had babies, so they were going to grow up in the church,” Virginia said. “All of those children are all grown now.”
After they joined in 1952, the church began to grow quickly, the couple recalled, and was filled with young, married couples with children. But, Virginia said, many of those families left because of the increase in property values at around that time.
“We raised our kids here in the church,” said Tore.
The church, Tore said, also served as a place to keep kids from the grip of substance abuse.
Dick Douglass, a resident of La Crescenta, will be 86 in November. He joined the church in his 20s. His wife, Gail, joined him in the 1960s when the couple married.
Dick attended the groundbreaking. His wife, though, had just given birth to their son a day earlier and was unable to attend.
“I missed the groundbreaking ceremony,” Gail said. “But we’ve been here ever since.”
Current FBCLC Pastor Bill Flanders credits the team responsible for expanding the facilities in 1964, calling them forward-looking.
“These facilities have also allowed a lot of different ministries to take place over the years,” he said.
The design of the building itself, which looks like a fan and places the congregation closer to the front, was considered an unusual and progressive architecture style for the 1960s.
“Most church buildings were very long and narrow, and the congregation was very well separated from what was happening up front,” Flanders said. “It was a progressive design that even today has a modern feel to it, which makes it more comfortable for people in the 21st century.”
Over the last 50 years since the church broke ground to expand its worship facilities, the demographics have changed. No longer does the congregation comprise mostly Anglo families, Flanders said, but families of varying ethnicities.
The families are also younger, Flanders said. When he first assumed his pastoral post, the congregation was two-thirds over 60 years old.
“You can look around,” he said. “Young families are becoming part of the congregation. Over half the church is under the age of 16. The biggest age group that we’re actually reaching is 30-somethings.”
The church also plays host to several foreign language congregations, including three Korean congregations and an Armenian congregation.
“That allows us to meet other portions of the community, because the culture and the language makes us significant,” Flanders said. “That’s part of our vision for the church, that all generations – the children, and youth, and seniors, and adults of all ages – would interact.”