Making Dreams Come True in Los Angeles
For generations, immigrants have come to Los Angeles, the city of dreams, to seek out the American dream and aspire for a better future.
A worship building in the heart of LA’s historic Filipinotown is rebuilt from the ground up, representing a dream come true for immigrants and those living in the community, who trusted in God’s plan and waited many years to see it happen.
Nan: L.A. is a city a filled with dreamers—but many live without seeing them fulfilled. See how one common dream for a better tomorrow led to the realization of a better plan for these residents and this city.
I’m Nan Zapanta. As an industrial designer I spent years admiring the great designs of products, vehicles, and architecture from all over the world. But I found architecture to be the most captivating. I love learning about each building, discovering the characteristics that make it unique, and understanding the purpose behind its design.
Most of all I love hearing the stories behind each structure and seeing God’s plan in putting it all together. Join us as we discover the blueprint of the buildings and structures inside the Iglesia Ni Cristo.
This is the L.A. everyone sees. Movie stars, million dollar homes, Sunset Boulevard. But take a drive just a few miles away from here and you’ll see a different type of L.A.
Neighborhoods full of working class families, immigrants hoping for a better life; dreamers in a city that seemed to promise so much. As early as the 1800s, immigrants from Europe, Central and South America, and Asia have set their eyes on Los Angeles to seek out a better future for themselves and their families.
[On screen graphics:]
(Old photographs of immigrants)
According to the U.S. census, by 2000 26.2% of the residents of Los Angeles County were foreign-born.
Carlos: My dream was to work and everything. I have my kids here.
Alyssa: My dream is acting. I think it’s a great town because everyone here is usually an artist of some sort.
Joventino: I did not dream or plan to come to Los Angeles because I had a job in my country, working for the government. I work in the daytime for my young kids.
Marvin: My dream is to be successful. I handle many companies here in America. I sold my property, bring the money to the United States.
Nan: Oh so it really was just for the opportunity?
Marvin: Yes, correct, for the opportunity.
Nan: As a young professional in Los Angeles, Marvin was living the dream when he was presented an unexpected opportunity.
Marvin: God gave me an opportunity to be successful in a different matter.
Nan: At the time, Marvin, like the majority of those from Nicaragua, was a practicing catholic. A very very active catholic as he described himself. That is until he attended a gathering in the Church Of Christ in 1989.
Nan: Did your membership in the Church change your dreams or your goals?
Marvin: Yes it has completely changed my past way of thinking and living.
Nan: A change in his life that would prepare him for a difficult time for many living in Los Angeles.
Speaker 1: You know right now, breaking news here stocks all around the world are tanking.
Speaker 2: California’s unemployment rate is now topped 11%. 1.5 million people in the state are out of work.
Speaker 3: …the contributors to the downfall where the collapse of the housing market and its impact on construction.
Speaker 4: It’s hard to imagine California being in more trouble.
Marvin: Yes I remember it was a very difficult time, I lost my job of many years and I lost part of my savings that I had in my 401k plan.
Nan: It was in this year that the Church Of Christ broke ground on the construction of a new 465 seating capacity worship building in Los Angeles.
Nan: In 2008, Bert Dasmarinas was tasked to get bids for a multi-million dollar construction project, just outside of downtown L.A, a task greeted with much skepticism as construction projects throughout the city and the state of California skidded to a halt that year.
Bert: The contractor was hesitant because [they thought] ‘Iglesia Ni Cristo’? Who are these people? They don’t want to start the project. So what I did, I asked the U.S. Main Office, “Can you give me some sort of certification?”
Nan: Soon after the 2008 groundbreaking, construction began.
Bert: We put all those provisions for windows, for doors, then rebars, then concrete. When the concrete was maximum strength, we tilted it up by crane. We lifted it up and installed it vertically.
Nan: The speed of the process surprised many of those watching the construction.
Bert: People walking there, it’s flat. All of a sudden, it goes up, so everybody was surprised with how we did it.
“How did it happen? The walls are done already, the other day, there was nothing there, and then there’s the walls.” And it’s thick though—it’s around 6 inches or 7 inches, I think. That structure is very strong.
Nan: However, this large structure also needed a deep foundation to support it.
Bert: Some places are loose soil, so we need to make sure that it’s compacted so that when the building would be built, it will be strong. We have a very strong foundation.
Nan: Just months after it began, construction had to be stopped.
Bert: Because of the hazardous materials that were found in the vicinity, in the soil of the chapel, so we had to remove it first.
Nan: Lead in the soil would cause serious illness down the line—a risk the Church Of Christ didn’t want to take.
Bert: So it was a big job. So we make sure that the lead will be out, and then we get certification from the EPA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to give us certification that it’s clean. So that was the time that we were able to resume the construction.
Nan: Finally, in August of 2009, cement trucks were able to roll in to pour down the foundation of what would soon become a landmark in the community.
Bert: There were no major problems after that.
Nan: To get an inside look of the building, let’s head over to Richie’s desk. He works on all of the animations and the models for Blueprint. He was actually born and raised in Los Angeles. So let’s go check it out.
Nan: What’s up dude? What are you working on?
Richie: I’m working on some models, you want to take a look?
Nan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Richie: So you know how we’re working on the episode on L.A. and we’re building the model for that. I wanted to show you some of the models of the other chapels to show you how that kind of works.
Nan: Awesome, yeah. I’ve seen some of the things that you do, but I think it’d be helpful for me and the viewers to see the methods that are used for these animations.
Richie: Whenever we do an episode, we also go through the parts of the chapel that we’re going to highlight, and eventually that becomes a focal point in the model building process.
Richie: And so once you start animating, you could just grab a group and bring it down…
Nan: Whoa! It’s turning.
Richie: Bring it down into the area that it’s supposed to be in, like this, and we will just use those components to animate when we start animating the portions of the episode.
Nan: So these are to scale and pretty accurate?
Richie: Yeah they’re relatively accurate. Again, we only build as much as we have to, when it comes to the animation. We’re starting on the structural part of Los Angeles [chapel], which is why I have some of the construction photos here on the other screen just so we could reference how it looked before some of the details of the molding and other things like that. And so go back here, and we’ll check that out. And here are some of the images for Los Angeles.
Nan: Oh awesome, so you could see kind of the reference images that you used to build it. I think I recognize this, this is the function hall. And since you were born and raised in L.A, and you’re super familiar with this house of worship in particular, from building the model, were there things you’ve hadn’t noticed at all until you started building the model or..?
Richie: Yeah, I think what I would say, it’s kind of reverse. There’s something that you feel when go into the L.A. chapel but when you’re looking at a plan I realized you might not really get how that feels or how that looks.
Nan: Anyone that sees the L.A. house of worship from the outside can clearly see it’s an A-frame design. So naturally, one could assume that the interior ceiling would have a similar shape with two sides converging at one point. But the interior ceiling is the exact opposite of that. There is an overall arc to the ceiling that’s highlighted by curves and arches throughout. Since the roof and ceiling have such contrasting shapes, what does that leave in the middle?
Richie: But that’s the unexpected thing, when you look at the section cut you see how different it is to the outside to the inside.
Nan: So there’s like a walk space, a walking space, in this open area right here?
Richie: It’s through the catwalk and this truss support system on top that for example the lights, and other things on top can be maintained so you don’t have to use a giant ladder just to get to the top.
Nan: Oh dude I hope we can check it out—is that something we can check out?
Nan: Richie and I met up in Los Angeles to check out the house of worship.
Nan: I never really thought about it. I’ve been to this sanctuary a lot of times, but I never really realized just how the curvature, it doesn’t match the shape of the roof, because the roof comes to a point.
Richie: Usually when chapels are A-frame you expect something inside to be flat or A-frame as well, so it’s pretty unexpected.
Nan: The curvature of the sanctuary ceiling sets an overarching theme that allows for an almost seamless transition between all the spaces inside. Including the choir loft, which rises above the other spaces, yet still transitions smoothly into the main sanctuary.
Nan: You know we discussed the curvature—you could see it really is a theme in all the different details. I mean you could see it in the molding up there. But you do see that it’s more prevalent up in the choir loft area. Maybe we could go check out some of the closer details.
Richie: Yeah let’s check it out.
Nan: The perimeter of the center wall of the choir loft is illuminated with a strip of LED lights. They provide a very subtle accent that compliment the gold circular pieces that are placed within the molding. Along the side walls, where normally you would see molding, there are columns, instead, that frame the light fixtures that provide uplighting along both sides.
Nan: Well I definitely got to say this is one of my favorite sanctuaries that I’ve visited. Even though I’ve been here many times, it never fails to impress me. So I’m just happy to be here.
Before we go though, I did notice, I thought maybe that was an AC type thing, but there’s a little space up there. Is that where the projector screen comes down?
Richie: It is, so that space right there is where it drops down and it covers the entire back wall. Right? But of course with a projector screen, we need a projector so that it doesn’t get in the way of anything else down here.
Nan: Yeah it’s right there right? You kind of see the…
Richie: The square.
Nan: The square.
Richie: That drops down and there’s a projector nested right above that molding, goes down and projects whatever we need projected on the screen.
Nan: Hey Richie, so I don’t think the viewers can tell, but where are we right now?
Richie: So we’re standing in the rafters that sits between the ceiling of the main sanctuary and the roof of the entire structure.
Nan: Cool! So we’re pretty high up right now.
Richie: Very high, because the ceiling already is over 35 feet above the floor.
Nan: So back in 2008, shortly after the groundbreaking, hundreds of INC (Iglesia Ni Cristo) members gathered at this spot to witness history.
Nan: What did it mean to you knowing that you know, you were at school, you knew that this house of worship that you practically grew up in was being essentially torn down.
Richie: I wasn’t here. I remember when it happened though. I was in school and I could see photos of it being uploaded online to Facebook. I live walking distance from the chapel. So I have a lot of memories that are associated with every part of the old chapel. And seeing those pictures was really like closure, like this is it.
So it was a little sad but it was also exciting to know that this is real. There’s a new chapel and this is a new chapter for the [local] congregation.
Nan: I could imagine a sense of pride too, with something like this happening.
Richie: Yeah, sense of pride and a sense of humility because we’re just fortunate you know, to be a part of it.
Nan: As Richie shared stories about growing up in Los Angeles, I got a glimpse of the impact the worship building had on so many. And whether it was the old building or the one today, it was and still remains the heart of their activities here in L.A.
Richie: And what you’ll notice is a parking lot filled with cars. I kid you not, you know how there’s double parking? There was like quadruple or whatever the equivalent of eight cars parked. All the brethren just knew what to do. And if you were stuck in a parking spot all the way inside, you were stuck, but that wouldn’t be a problem because we’re all here for the same reason anyways.
Nan: That’s an awesome visual.
Richie: Growing up with all the elders, it’s kind of like what they say, “lead by example.” Because even back then when I was a kid, I saw them doing it. You know, cleaning the chapel, caring for the compound, or even just performing their duties. The reason why the chapel is built a certain way, their duties, and to introduce the Church to everyone in the community. And now that the chapel is bigger, our exposure is bigger too. So it’s the same, but it’s better.
Nan: Established in 1968, the local congregation of Los Angeles was the first Church Of Christ congregation in Southern California. The congregation quickly grew and comprised mainly of immigrants seeking a better life in America. The need for a place of worship became more and more apparent as they often overwhelmed the home of brother Gerry Barrientos, one of the pioneers of Los Angeles, and by early 1971, the congregation moved into the first Church Of Christ house of worship dedicated outside of the Philippines. By 1977, a new house of worship was needed in Los Angeles. This time, moving the congregation to 141 North Union Avenue, Los Angeles, California; a location they’ve remained at for now over 40 years.[On screen graphics: Old photos of the chapel and the congregation in its earlier days.]
The members in Los Angeles helped established congregations throughout Southern California.[on screen graphics:]
A painting of the old LA chapel can be found on a mural in historic Filipino Town.
Nan: One of the pioneers that witnessed the growth of Los Angeles was Mauricio Donado, affectionately known as Ka Bogie in L.A. He served as the construction coordinator during the building of the new house of worship.
Nan: Why was there even a need to build a brand new house of worship from the ground up for L.A?
Bojie: The main reason is that because we are… we are growing up.
Nan: Though the congregation had given birth to multiple congregations in Southern California due to its growth, it was not uncommon for the worship services in L.A. to be overflowing with attendees.
Bojie: Our chapel is an old construction, 1921. Imagine that, and we just remodeled it. We have so many repairs and additional things added there.
Nan: This was for the original building? Before the…
Bojie: Yes before. That’s why the church became so beautiful again. Maybe 4 of us are doing all the carpentry, changing all the panels. Looks so nice. So many weddings there.
Nan: Construction was not something new to Bogie, an architect in the Philippines. He hoped to continue the career when he moved to the U.S. in the 1970s.
Nan: Can you say why is that important?
Bojie: God gave me that knowledge to do things, why not use it for the Church?
In L.A. during those times, I’m always on top of the roof, fixing holes because it’s an old building. (Laughs.)
Nan: How did it feel knowing that it would have to be torn down?
Bojie: Those memories become the strength of the Church. Because everybody’s thinking, “why did we have to wait for 44 years before we build this?” God had a plan for us. So that it will spread out. The chapel, everything, will fill up.
Nan: Was there a moment where it kind of struck your mind or your heart that, “Oh this is really happening”?
Bojie: Well the first time when I took care of the acquisition of the building permit, “this is the time now. This is what God started us to do.”
Nan: It took over 2 years to complete the building, and finally on March 26, 2011, the years of prayers and patiently waiting came to an end with the dedication of the new house of worship of Los Angeles. Led by the Executive Minister of the Church Of Christ, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo.
Nan: Thousands came to witness that day. Many of whom came from congregations that can trace their history back to the local congregation of Los Angeles. And today, that is fondly etched into Ka Bojie’s mind.
Bojie: We feel so happy of course. Who will not be. Everybody around L.A. or other places will be there. And they will see Brother Eduardo Manalo. That is the happiest moment.
Also, me, the head deacon, me I’m the 2nd, we were able to sit in the podium with them.
Nan: Can you share with us how did you feel? Knowing that you’re sitting up there with them.
Bojie: With my problem with my knees, I said “I hope I can walk in there.”
Nan: And L.A. is one of the most beautiful houses of worship that we have here.
Bojie: And you can see the construction, it’s all steel, all steel construction.
Nan: Oh it’s beautiful, po.
Nan: Sadly, Ka Bojie passed away in 2017. He saw many of his dreams fulfilled, including the opportunity to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary in the worship building he helped build, and leading a new congregation in Glendale, another daughter [local] congregation of Los Angeles.
And for Marvin, who now helps lead the Spanish worship services here in Los Angeles, he hopes to help open a new door of possibilities for the community.
Nan: Can you describe maybe what’s one of your favorite parts of the main sanctuary?
Marvin: For me, the podium: we preach the words of God, also we pray for the (local) congregation. For me the most beautiful and sacred place is the podium.
Nan: Though it’s been a few years now since Marvin retired from the career that brought him to Los Angeles, retirement has not slowed down his dreams for the future.
Marvin: Yeah, right now we fill up seven rows, well seven for the females, and seven for the males. But my hope is soon we could fill up the chapel.
Nan: Now the head deacon of the Spanish worship service, he and his wife are usually the first ones inside the L.A. house of worship on Spanish worship service days, setting up. And his dreams are not just for L.A. Since 2000, he and his wife have been helping with the missionary activities in Nicaragua.
Marvin: (in Spanish) With the help of God and the effort of faith and perseverance of brother Froilan, in a short time formed three group worship services. We continue to pray to God for the Church Administration to send a permanent minister to take care of the brethren.
We’ll have more opportunities to work hard in Nicaragua.
Nan: Marvin hopes to one day move back to Nicaragua and continue to introduce the Church to many more people living there, just as he was introduced to the Church here in L.A.
Nan: (in spanish) What do you think about having a new house of worship in Nicaragua?
Marvin: Having a house of worship is necessary and important so that our worship service will be maintained in a proper manner and to continue to uphold our spiritual activities that glorify our Almighty God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Marvin: We have a job here we have to do. We can make it with God’s help.
Nan: I think we can all relate to the idea of pursuing a dream. The struggles we’re willing to overcome, the sacrifices we’re willing to make, all for that one sliver of hope of accomplishing our dream. But sometimes we completely abandon our dream, setting them aside for something we didn’t even realize was possible. Like this building on Union Avenue in the heart of Los Angeles.
Thanks for joining us on this episode of Blueprint, where in the end, everything is part of God’s plan.