J e s u s    T h o u g h t s
Because He paid the price.




The Church of the Open Door, Los Angeles, California

 
Give the winds a mighty voice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Let the nations now rejoice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout salvation full and free; highest hills and deepest caves;
This our song of victory: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

William Kirkpatrick, Priscilla Owens 1882


An historical church and one I remember and loved. I don't know if the signs that famously adorned downtown L.A.'s historic Church of the Open Door were constructed in reference to this well-known hymn, but there is obviously a connection. Fabricated in 1935, neither the signs nor the church building built in 1914 are there on Hope Street any longer, as they were torn down in 1986.

In this famous 1950s postcard picture the signs' placement atop the building is clearly seen.

This aerial image shows the library but not the signs, making it after 1925 when the library was built but before 1935 when the signs were erected. In the public parking lot in the foreground, it looks like nearly all black cars, too, which was kind of a 1920s thing.

In the dated picture above, it can be seen that the church was already in place when the library was built in 1925.

And just a few years' earlier photo in which neither the public library or rooftop signs existed. No vertical church sign either, note.

The Church of the Open Door was conceived by R. A. Torrey, a ministry partner of Dwight L. Moody's and early manager of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, who had come to Los Angeles to start what he hoped would be a similar school, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, later called Biola. The church was built in 1914, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles on Hope Street, adjacent to property that would eleven years later become the Los Angeles Public Library. The college flanked the church on two sides, as well as having rooms above, thus the 4,000 seat three-tier church was in the center, appropriate as in the early days it served as practically part of the school, to the extent of hosting graduation and other institute ceremonies and sharing leadership. The church vision was to reach the lost of Los Angeles, which was reflected in the name. Missions worldwide was also important, and kept in the congregation's consciousness by a wall above the pulpit as I recall it being essentially a world map bespeckled with electric lights representing the church's supported world outreaches. In 1935 two 14-foot "Jesus Saves" signs were installed on its roof and were said to be visible from LA's freeways.

The congregation relocated to less urban Glendora, California in 1985. The church, which reportedly had been incurring huge annual maintenance and parking costs, sold the property for a reported $14 million, most of which went toward the purchase of the church's new 40-acre site. Despite efforts by William Eugene Scott, the flamboyant Oral Roberts protege, to save it, the building was torn down after being damaged in the 1987 L.A. earthquake and a multi-story mostly-glass professional (real estate, legal) building stands in its place today.

Judging by the cars, this is a 1940s picture, and note that the bible college, which moved out in 1959, was still in the building.

A good shot of the dual-balcony equipped church. This is a record of a 1943 Biola graduation, some say, and looks like it.

This plaque near the sidewalk of the site today commemorates Church of the Open Door's seven pastors. The eighth name, that of the aforementioned Eugene Scott, has by veteran church members been protested as Scott was not a pastor of this church, nor even a congregant, but was involved in attempts to put the abandoned building to commercial use. Some famous names here. Many of the earliest were presidents of the bible institute.

J. Vernon McGee preaching, looks like around the 1950s. McGee was pastor from 1949 through 1970. A straight shooting down to earth man, he was likely the best the church ever had. McGee was later asked, at age 81, to preach Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles' final sermon. On that final Sunday, the church that had in recent years been enjoying less than half its capacity was filled to an overflowing 4,085. McGee decried the self-esteem gospel. "When all is said and done", McGee said, "you got nice, polite individuals but no one saved." McGee complimented the Rev. J. Michael Cocoris, the current pastor, for the decision to move the congregation to the suburbs, and thanked him for deferring this auspicious occasion to the much-respected McGee.

This looks like the mid 1970s, right around the time that I was there. The balcony was often used by those of us who came in late. Huge church, but friendly. I was pretty active in the young adults class that met upstairs as well as at an assortment of private homes.

The two buildings, the glass and steel professional complex and the ancient church building it replaced, from the same view looking from the public library. More than 40 years separated these photos.

John Vernon McGee, possibly Church of the Open Door's most beloved pastor, was born in Hillsboro, Texas, in 1904. At age 14, Vernon lost his dad to a cotton gin accident and his mother moved him and his sister to Nashville, Tennessee. Through the investment of mentors, Vernon was able to attend college and then seminary. After earning degrees from Southwestern University in Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia; and Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, McGee pastored churches in Georgia, Tennessee and Texas and during this time met his wife-to-be, Ruth Inez Jordan, afterward settling in Pasadena, California, where McGee accepted a pastoral call to the Lincoln Avenue Presbyterian Church.

In 1941, McGee was persuaded to begin a Sunday radio program initially called The Open Bible Hour, renamed in 1967 Thru the Bible. A five-year verse-by-verse homiletic exposition through Scripture, the "Bible Bus" series continues today. After retiring, McGee devoted the rest of his life to Thru the Bible. The program's Board of Directors planned that the recordings would stay on the air after Dr. McGee's death. "Just play the tapes until the money runs out," was Dr. McGee's suggestion. After cancer surgery in 1965, the doctors gave Vernon six months to live. Twenty-three years later, on December 1, 1988, Dr. McGee fell asleep in his chair and quietly passed into the presence of his Savior. Today, Thru the Bible continues through a small staff and the prayers and faithful giving of wonderful listeners committed to keeping it going. No one would be more surprised than McGee at the response to his preaching.

It is said that at McGee's first church in Midway, Georgia McGee received what he called his greatest compliment and one of his most enduring lessons. It was from a country boy who after a morning service sought out McGee. Groping for words, the young man blurted out, "I never knew Jesus was so wonderful!" Watching the boy leave, J. Vernon said he prayed, "Oh, God, help me to always preach so that it can be said, 'I never knew Jesus was so wonderful.'"

Los Angeles' Church of the Open Door's next to last pastor, Dr. Malcom Cronk, was born the year the church was built. Cronk, a New Yorker, began preaching at the age of 16, and continued holding forth God's Word to the age of 98, including pastorates at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wheaton Bible Church in Wheaton, Illinois, Winnetka Bible Church in Winnetka, Illinois, Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, California, and Camelback Bible Church in Paradise Valley, Arizona. He was known across the country as a Bible conference speaker. Malcom went home to glory in November of 2015 at the age of 101 while residing at his son's home in Freeport, Illinois. Tim Savage, who replaced Cronk at Camelback Bible Church in Arizona, said of Malcom, "Pastor knew God, and he made us adore our Maker. To hear him pray was to be ushered into the throne-room of heaven itself. His God was a big God, holy and full of glory, as well as a loving God, who died to take away our sins and rose to grant us a new way to be human."

Malcom Cronk was known to have said, "With the right spirit, a poorly-structured church will thrive. With the wrong spirit, a perfectly-structured church will fail." One of Cronk's favorite sayings was, "Preach the word, love the people, live the life!" This picture is from the 1980s and includes Pastor Cronk's wife Edna.

A 70th anniversary commemorative paperweight. This side shows one of the Jesus Saves signs, the other the famous 3/4 isometric of the church building.

A postcard from 4th church pastor Talbot's era, that is, up to 1945. Note he was president of the bible school also.