History abounds at the Monastery of the Angels — part 2

| January 25, 2024 | 0 Comments

The Chronicle published an article in December on the Monastery of the Angels and the pumpkin bread and other treats it has provided for decades. Many locals have taken interest in the monastery over the years, and 2024 marks its 100th anniversary. In this issue, we provide additional historical information about this beloved (once) religious establishment.

ARCHITECT Wallace Neff surveys work on the monastery.

VIEW of nuns against the Hollywood skyline.

SISTERS of the Monastery of the Angels take freshly baked bread from the oven.

THE MONASTERY’S hilltop view takes in the Downtown skyline.

Note: the pumpkin bread and other treats are for sale through January, the last we heard. Check the website for up-to-date information at monasteryoftheangels.org.

The Monastery of the Angels was founded in the former home of mining geologist Horace Winchell near Exposition Park. Soon it was clear that a cloistered order couldn’t adequately cloister in the middle of the city. In 1934, wealthy patrons purchased the current property, the former mansion and landscaped grounds of copper magnate Joseph Louis Giroux.

Prior to Giroux, the estate belonged to Arthur Letts, the founder of the Broadway and Bullocks department stores. The nuns were initially concerned that they shouldn’t reside amidst the sins of Hollywood, but supporters at the time convinced them that the area was mainly filled with stately homes, teetotalers and small spiritual communities. Prominent Los Angeles families of the time, the Dohenys, Dockweilers, Van de Kamps and Hancocks, financially supported the Dominican nuns of the Sacred Order of Preachers who silently prayed for the betterment of the world from their Hollywood enclave.

After 14 years in the mansion, it was decided that the nuns should have something built specifically for their needs. A fundraiser was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1948 with Hollywood luminaries leading the way. Actress Maureen O’Sullivan chaired the event. Sponsors included Irene Dunne, costumer Edith Head and gossip columnist Louella Parsons.

A Spanish Colonial Revival-style facility was designed by architect Wallace Neff, who had remodeled the Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks-owned Pickfair. Considered the father of the California style, some of Neff’s other homes have been owned by Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Diane Keaton, Bob Newhart, Wallis Annenberg and Fredric March, among others.

The arched inner courtyard of the monastery compound exemplifies Neff’s style. In contrast, the 7-1/2-foot-by- 10-foot cell-like bedrooms show the nuns’ spartan wants.

Although the sisters were separated from the world, they wanted to feed the souls of Angelenos, and so Neff designed a two-sided chapel: one for the nuns, reached only from inside the compound; the other side accessed from the parking lot for visitors signed a two-sided chapel: one for the nuns, reached only from inside the compound; the other side accessed from the parking lot for visitors in search of peace and spiritual solace. People use the chapel regularly, even now. Neff also provided a grate through which those in need could communicate with the nuns.

After the nuns moved into their newly built home in 1949, the original Letts / Giroux mansion was used as a Catholic retreat for women until it was razed in 1973.

The house is gone, but its hilltop view over the monastery’s tower to the Downtown skyline still impresses. Over the years, the sisters’ monastic life was supported by fundraising events organized by the local Catholic community. Bing Crosby regularly performed at the events, as did Don Ameche. Among other regular supporters were Conrad Hilton, Bob and Dolores Hope and Fred MacMurray. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein left them the piano on which “Oklahoma” was composed.

The 65 sisters who lived at the monastery when it was at its peak had varied interests. There was a sister who grafted roses, one who was an expert seamstress and a nun who swam laps every day in the indoor pool.

Tours were, and are, given of the monastery. In the late 1990s, a young woman on a tour was so taken with the monastery that she became Sister Mary Austin.

While nuns no longer reside at the monastery, baking goes on, and the pumpkin bread and some other goodies will remain available — apparently through the end of January. The Dominican friars are working with real estate agent Dominic Dutra to find a way to maintain the Monastery of the Angels as a sacred Dominican space. However, no decision has yet been made as to what will ultimately happen to the property.

The Monastery of the Angels & Gift Shop is at 1977 Carmen Ave., 323-470-5884. Visit monasterygoodies.com.

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Category: Real Estate

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