Santa Monica’s spiritual history will be on display this weekend thanks to the Santa Monica Conservancy’s first Sacred Spaces tour.

The self-driving/walking/biking tour provides an opportunity to visit 15 local historic places of worship and is a fundraiser that supports the Conservancy’s ongoing work to preserve local history.

Conservancy president Carol Lemlein said the organization holds a tour each year and while it often features homes, it has branched out in the past to cover other kinds of historic buildings. She said members were excited about developing the sacred spaces tour this year and of their first 16 choices for tour sites, only one had to decline.

“They were unboundingly enthusiastic,” she said of the participating institutions. “I think they were very happy to be able to showcase their buildings and congregations to a broader audience. We did not expect to have 15 sites but when they were all very interested in being involved, we decided that’s what we would do.”

The tour features sites of varying denominations and diverse congregations.

“Few places have had such significance in the city’s character and development as places of worship and community gathering,” said tour chair Ruthann Lehrer in a statement.

The Conservancy described the locations as some of the earliest gathering sites in the city and said they reveal the ways in which places of worship have enriched community life through education, arts, and social and political efforts.

According to organizers, the tour includes several churches serving African-American congregations and Latino communities, and explores the architecture and histories of Christian, Coptic, Jewish, and Unitarian sites.

The locations on the tour cater to diverse interests with some locations focusing on their physical building, some featuring unique internal elements and others showcasing the larger history around their organizations.

Mt. Olive Lutheran Church is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and the current church is 55 years old this year. Rev. Eric C. Shafer, Senior Pastor at Mount Olive, said participating in the Conservancy tour during their 75th anniversary was too good a chance to miss.

“In this 75th year, we continue to be kind of a hub for this end of town with everything meeting here and all the activities here plus the shelter so it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to get people into the building that have never been in the building,” he said.

Shafer said the diversity featured on the tour is valuable.

“It’s a great opportunity to share with other congregations in the community the wonderful art and different architecture the churches in this community have,” he said. He said the church was honored to be part of the tour and he is thankful for the work the Conservancy has done to organize the event.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom said it was a great honor to be included in the tour and that his congregation has an interesting history in Santa Monica.

The synagogue dates back to 1938 or 1939 and he said records from that time show the founders thought it was very important for them to be part of the Santa Monica community at large.

“For them to say ‘we need a synagogue here’ was an amazing statement and had a huge impact on the Jewish community and the community at large,” he said. He said the building is not a typical example of synagogue due to the timing of its founding.

“One of the reasons doesn’t look like synagogue in particular, is at that time people didn’t want synagogue to look like synagogue because it was too dangerous,” he said.

He said there will be docents on hand to explain some of the building’s history during the tour and some members of the congregation will also be on site for some of the time.

David Shepherd Penson, Membership and Facilities Coordinator at the First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica said they hope to see many visitors over the course of the tour.

“We are honored to be one of the fifteen historical churches listed on tour this Saturday as a part of the SM Conservancy tour,” he said.

“First UMC was formed October, 1875 and has been at our most present site, 11th and Washington, since 1953. Todd Erlandson, past Trustee chairman, and current church member, and Principal Owner and Architect at March Studio, has donated much of his time over the years in preserving the architectural space and feel of the church. The architecture is a blend of traditional church design and modernism. We will have our historian, Leslie Nordby onsite for questions during the tour, and Sean O’Neal, organist will be playing on the famous organ during the tour.”

This self-driving or biking tour offers several designated check-in locations on Saturday, Oct. 7. Visitors will be provided a map and detailed brochure of the sites.

Tickets are $25 for members and $30 for the public if purchased in advance. They may be purchased online ( in person the day of the tour. Buyers should indicate the number of tickets desired and whether they are a Conservancy member, and include your address, email and telephone number.

Tickets can be purchased during the tour at the check-in locations for an additional $5.

Money raised during the tour supports the Conservancy’s ongoing work. The organization operates other tours on a weekly basis including Marion Davies Guest House and walking tours of Downtown Santa Monica. The group operates a preservation resource center in the Shotgun House and the Conservancy is an active force in advocating for historic preservation throughout the city.

For more information about the Santa Monica Conservancy, visit

Santa Monica Conservancy’s Sacred Spaces Tour Sites:

  1. First Presbyterian, 1220 2nd St. *
  2. Iglesia el Sermon del Monte, 2nd and Hill Sts.
  3. Church in Ocean Park, 235 Hill St.
  4. St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox, 1245 4th St.
  5. St. Augustine By-the-Sea, 1227 4th St.
  6. St. Monica Catholic Community, 725 California Ave.
  7. St. Paul’s Lutheran, 958 Lincoln Blvd.
  8. First United Methodist, 1008 11th St.
  9. Unitarian Universalist Community, 1260 18th St.
  10. Pilgrim Lutheran, 1730 Wilshire Blvd.
  11. Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 California Ave.
  12. Phillips Chapel, 2001 4th St. (open only from 3-5 pm)
  13. Mt. Olive Lutheran, 1343 Ocean Park Blvd. *
  14. St. Anne Church & Shrine, 2011 Colorado Ave. *
  15. Calvary Baptist, 1502 20th St.

Check-in locations are designated with *.


Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...