Meditation and Yoga Heading to Former Christian Science Building

12th of Apr 2010

On Wednesday, the nondenominational Art of Living Foundation plans to rededicate the century-old Los Angeles church, which has been neglected in recent years. A church in the West Adams district that formerly rang with Christian Science hymns is soon to resonate with such unfamiliar sounds as chanting and the voices of yoga teachers urging students to breathe smoothly.The Art of Living Foundation plans to rededicate the century old Second Church of Christ, Scientist and an adjoining reading room in a public ceremony Wednesday.

The foundation intends to use the inner-city building for courses in meditation, as a research center and for conferences for "raising social awareness," according to Rajshree Patel, the foundation's executive director in Los Angeles. The location at Adams and Figueroa boulevards, just north of USC, is a good match for the foundation's goal of public outreach, Patel added. "We cannot isolate ourselves into one age group, one nation or one place," she said. "The world does not function that way anymore." Founded nearly 30 years ago by meditation teacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (not to be confused with the similarly named sitar player), the Art of Living Foundation is a nondenominational, nonprofit organization dedicated to meditation and emotional self-control as the keys to peaceful and cooperative living, Patel said.

The organization teaches traditional disciplines including meditation and yoga and holds classes and seminars on issues ranging from world peace to emotional self-control. Patel described the foundation as embracing the essential truth of all religions -- "love, care, service and compassion" -- while avoiding doctrinal issues. "Sri Sri says everybody is holding onto the banana skin rather than the fruit itself," she said. The banana skin, Patel added, represents doctrinal differences among religions, and the fruit inside "represents the inner values of every religion." Although the former church is the group's first permanent home in Los Angeles, the foundation and an affiliated program, Youth Empowerment Seminar, have been active in the area for 15 years, she said. The seminar is a meditation and yoga class offered to students of four Los Angeles high schools

The course, according to Patel, "helps students learn about their negative emotions and how to control" them. Self-awareness is among the issues addressed in the course, she said. "When we are argumentative and upset, how can we turn those feelings around and make things go forward?" "Students often start out saying, 'This is weird. I don't want to learn this,' " Patel said. But later, many say they don't want to leave when the course is over, she added. Brenda Pensamiento, assistant principal at West Adams Preparatory High School, a private school, said she believes that yoga and meditation may offer some emotional breathing room for youths living in crowded, sometimes violent surroundings. In some cases, "a student may be living with seven other people in a small apartment," she said. Meditation techniques "may help students find a place of their own," she said.

New owner-occupants for the aging church are a welcome arrival in the neighborhood of vintage Craftsman houses, where empty buildings can become eyesores and symbols of neglect. In the two years since the Christian Science Church left the complex, taggers have defaced the back of the building repeatedly, and vandals have broken several stained-glass windows. The sale of the complex in December reflected both a declining membership and rising maintenance costs, said Don Ingwerson, a member of the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Southern California, which handles regional public affairs for the church. Among those happy about the plans for the building is Mitzi March Mogul, a member of the historic preservation committee of West Adams Heritage Assn., a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting historic structures in the neighborhood. "We are delighted with the new folks, who seem interested in becoming good stewards for the building," she said.
"We're also very pleased that the church will be used for a religious purpose, because that was the original nature of the building." The church's current neglect is a contrast to its original state in February 1910, when the $318,000 church opened. Closely modeled after the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, it was a West Coast flagship for the denomination. "No expense was spared, from the gray granite and glazed brick of the exterior to the dome's copper sheathing or the art glass window," the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency wrote in its successful 1986 nomination letter to include the church complex on the National Register of Historic Places.

Designed by Los Angeles architect Alfred Rosenheim, with Albert C. Martin serving as the structural engineer, the "Italian Renaissance edifice was heralded as the largest and most elaborate of the denomination's branches west of the Mississippi when it was constructed," the nomination stated. For the moment, the restoration work on the building is mostly cosmetic, Patel said, although the foundation plans to hire an architect and eventually renovate the building completely. "We want to be a good neighbor," Patel said.