Friday, September 13, 2013

Holy Rollin': Central Baptist Church - Pomona, CA

It has been said that God works in mysterious ways, perhaps none so mysterious as the amazing,  midcentury, architectural marvels, standing like modern incarnations of the ancient temples of Jerusalem along Southern California's sprawling web of freeways.  It has been my long-held desire to explore some of these churches and determine if they are just as amazing on the inside as they are on the out.  

The first entry into this series is Central Baptist Church in Pomona, CA.  Pomona is a transitional area of Los Angeles.  On the precipice of the region Southern Californian's sometimes derisively refer to as the "Inland Empire," Pomona is home to the Los Angeles County Fair.  It has a large historic district that includes many antique and vintage shops.  It was even a primary filming location for Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat movie.  It is also kind of weird.  A block of beautiful, craftsman homes is surrounded by great stretches of transmission shops, strip clubs, and check-cashing outlets.  Some people might be a little turned off, but I was delighted to see ferile roosters and hens wandering the main drag.  Honestly, I felt completely at home within Pomona city limits as it gave me a sense of old California; Central Baptist just upped Pomona's ante.

Central Baptist Church - Pomona, CA

Like a great, white monolith beckoning world-weary sinners, Central Baptist looks like a Greek Orthodox church mated with the It's A Small World attraction from Disneyland.

There was some debate among our group as to the exact year when the church was built.
I couldn't find the information online but I think the church's van might have been a clue.

The outside of the church had us practically ready to be baptized on the spot.
The semi-sunken chapel had a series of incredible stained-glass, demilune
windows and the textured rock walls looked freshly whitewashed

We arrived at Central Baptist late in the day; seeing that the doors were chained, bolted, AND barred, we were beginning to resign ourselves to the fact that we would merely be enjoying the beauty of the church's exterior.  Nevertheless, I was wearing a good luck charm that I had a feeling would get us in good with The Man Upstairs...

A lapel pin I picked up at a garage sale for ten cents earlier that day!
Coincidence?  I think not!

It worked!  From another building on the campus of the Central Baptist Church/School, came Travis, a genial young man who offered to tell us a little bit about the church and its ministry AND give us a guided tour of the chapel.  Yahoo!!!

"He's got the whole world in his hands."
Mr. Tiny was stoked!!!

To tell you that the chapel was awe inspiring would be an understatement; from soaring, buttressed ceilings of purest white hung giant, gold, midcentury chandeliers.  This was a modernist cathedral!

I learned from Travis that the approximate size of the congregation is between 80-100 people.
I am not a Baptist but I encourage all who are of the Baptist persuasion and live in the
greater Pomona area to find themselves here on Sunday mornings; there is room for a lot more!!!

Bathed in the glow of the afternoon sun, the chapel becomes an atrium.
A little landscaping and TLC could only make the planters that
 run the entire length of the church even more beautiful!

I'm pretty sure Jesse and Emily were rethinking their whole "Catholic wedding" of last year.

What appeared to be simply odd, little rectangular windows on the outside of the building
were actually primary-colored (plus green) glass blocks that must give
congregants the feeling that they are sitting in God's very own jewel box!

I love this place!

An inside view of the stained-glass

With a little encouragement (Jesse might have told Travis that his mom used to go to church at Central Baptist), Travis happily showed us the rest of the building.

The foyer - enrobed in gorgeous lattice work


The scary, dungeon-like storage rooms that could only be entered
into via a tiny half-door in a dimly-lit stairwell through which I
refused to pass just in case that was where he was taking us to kill us.
Only kidding Trav...

As much as I wanted to, we didn't get to go up on the roof.

But we did get to see the sea-foam green changing rooms
with their multi-colored, mosiac tile floor and...

The gargantuan baptismal font!
It is a BAPTIST church, after all.

It is easy to see that the awesome woodland/waterfall 
mural was painted more with love than with training.

We had the greatest time walking through Central Baptist Church; after our visit, I have an entirely renewed perspective on the heritage of Southern California religious architecture.  Paris can have its Notre Dame.  Barcelona can keep La Sagrada Familia.  Las Vegas can take comfort in The Little White Wedding Chapel.  In the Central Baptist Church, the people of Pomona have a true architectural gem that I believe is inspired both by midcentury madness and maybe, just maybe, the Divine.  

A huge THANK YOU to our new pal, and intrepid tour 
guide, Travis (pictured with Nick, Emily, and Mr. Tiny - 
Jesse was the cameraman)

Are there any cool churches in your neighborhood?  Did you grow up going to a church that inspired a love of architecture or interiors?  Tell us about it!

"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" - Nina Simone

Central Baptist Church
395 San Bernardino Ave
Pomona, CA


Mr. Tiny


  1. Now I think you will have to become a Baptist! I was raised Baptist, and my husband came from a Catholic church background. Unfortunately, my church was a bit on the ugly side. We had a cute little mid-century chapel - then a 1970s addition that had paneling and dropped ceiling panels with red upholstered benches and carpet. Not pretty, but many good memories in that place. Loved this church - I like that they kept the old architectural touches.

    1. Isn't a great church?! It is basically all original but it is a huge building and the upkeep must be hard; there are buckets throughout to catch any leaks!

  2. Well here's a big atheist hallelujah to that! Faintly reminds me of the Stasi Museum in Berlin - must be the fancy blockwork

    1. I haven't yet been to Berlin so I had to look up the Stasi Museum; it does have a similar brutalistic quality. I can't wait to get to Germany at some point!

  3. This church had wacky tacky written all over it! What a neat place. Too bad we can't gather up $398,000 to turn it into the church of wacky tacky. I know you'd make a great Minister Tiny!

    1. A neat place and a neat day! I had so much fun thanks to you guys!

  4. What a lovely church! I love peeking in old churches. If I wasn't in to old gothic-style Episcopalian churches, I wouldn't mind going here.

    1. Are old churches the best?! They are always must see stops on our travel itineraries. My grandfather was not Episcopalian, but he always told people he was because he thought it sounded funny!!!

  5. We visited Pomona on our last trip to LA - we were there at night to go dancing, and I must admit, we thought it was kind of a weird area! That said, the Masonic Lodge was awesome, and we had a great night there. Also, there is a really cool looking Italian restaurant that we heard great things about (vintage decor) but alas it was closed, so I am unable to attest to how good it is, myself.

    1. Yeah, Pomona is definitely a diamond in the rough. There are so many cool places in that area including Vince's Spaghetti in Ontario (my guess for the Italian restaurant that was recommended). I have yet to go to School of Rock at the lodge but I have a goal to get there at some point!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing Central Baptist with us Mr. Tiny. Such a beautiful church!

    1. Thank you for enjoying it!!! I bet there are some incredible churches up your way too!

  7. i love this new feature! i can't wait to see where else you go! i can't remember if i mentioned it when we saw you, but there is a GREAT church downtown nashville with an egyptian motif, all snakes and jewel tones and wings. it is AMAZING/

    1. I'm so glad that you like it...I wasn't sure that anybody would. I think you mentioned that church before; it sounds absolutely incredible!!! Just another reason for me to come to Tennessee!

  8. I'm glad you enjoyed the beauty of the architecture as much as I do every Sunday.. :)

    1. Hiya JoAnne! I'm so glad to hear from one of Central Baptist's congregants. You have a beautiful church and a real treasure in Travis there. Thank you for keeping the church alive!

    2. Hi JoAnne, You have a wonderful church it seems from what I saw on the church website. I was a member of this church growing up from a baby up until the late 70's! I'm getting so teary eyed seeing these pictures of my church building. It is more gorgeous to me now then when I went there as a child and teen. I didn't appreciate the building architectural side like I do now…WOW…this means a lot to me….more than I can put into words here.
      . I live in Missouri now and don't have any pictures of the church building.:( but I bookmarked this website. There were 60 buses that were always full of kids and some adults. My bus picked up the disabled people who couldn't go otherwise. Lots of good memories there…thank you Mr. Tiny for sharing your admiration for this church building.

    3. I went there for several years and also attended the high school that was affiliated with the church. I was baptised there and sang in the choir. My husband and I were married there. It was nice to see pictures of it again.
      I was told it was built to resemble a crown. Not sure if that is reliable information or not.

  9. I went to Central in my youth. Loved it. It was actually built by the Lutherans. A buddy I worked with belonged to the church who built it and later sold it to Central.

  10. I went to Central Baptist from the 60's through the mid 70's. It began at a smaller building off of Mills Ave in Montclair. The congegation helped to purchase this building. Always thought it was beautiful. Pastor Ray Batema was the minister there. Great memories. Thank you for posting the pictures.

    1. Did you know my father Phil Phillips? He was a Sunday school teacher for the teen boys and an usher too. When we were members there we had as many as 7,000 people on a given Sunday. Pastor Ray Batema was a great man of God. His sermons touched my heart many times through the years.

  11. I lived down the street from Central, on Madison, in the 80s and early 90s. We attended there some and my kids rode the bus to VBS. I don't remember who the pastor was the. I believe it was a Ron something? Loved being able to walk to church. Beautiful building, the were talking about reopening the school, glad to see they did do. After First Baptist closed their school there really wasn't another Christian school around.

  12. I found this interesting as I just looked at a documentary on Harvey Milk made in the 1980s. According to the documentary Rev. Batema from Pomona's Central Baptist Church was in the forefront of Proposition 6 in the 1970s. This is the proposition would have made it legal to fire gay people from their jobs for the "crime" of being gay. It failed and Harvey Milk was assassinated soon afterward along with San Francisco's Mayor, George Mascone.

  13. I attended Central Baptist Church from 1979-1984, as a teenager. Loved the building and had the best times there worth the youth group under the direction of Glenn Moffitt! Pastor Batema was a godly man of God, and I enjoyed his preaching very much. He had a heart for souls! Thank you for bringing back precious memories!

  14. We are still around. Come and join us on Sunday for Sunday Schoolat 9:30am and Morning Worship at 10:45 am. We have Sunday Night Worship Service at 6:00 pm. Our Wednesday Prayer Meeting and Bible Study is at 7pm. AWANA program at 6:45pm during the school year.
    We still run our bus to pick up kids and adults alike within Pomona area.
    Everybody is welcome to worship and learn more about God and Jesus Christ.

  15. That is where we were married in 1978. It was my wife and her family's home church.

  16. I met my wife at that Church . Lived in the area for 12 years before moving to central Arkansas . Dr. Ray Batema married us . I still keep in touch with Tom Smith and family who is the pastor there now��

  17. My wife and I met at the church when it was on Mills Ave. The current CBC was built by the Lutherans. I remember, as a teenager, helping demolish the big altar down front. If I recall correctly, there was a 20-30' paper mache Jesus hanging on a cross on the wall above it. We took that down. I recall using a concrete gun to set the wood into the concrete to build the platform, choir, and baptistry on. It was the first time I had seen or heard of firing nails into concrete. This would have been about 1969 that we remodeled the sanctuary to fit a baptistic congregation. My wife and I were married there by Ken Burdett, my wife's brother.

  18. I attended kindergarten through second grade in the mid-1960's at what was then known as First Lutheran Church. It was while I attended First Lutheran that the white sanctuary building was erected. I remember the crucifix above the altar and the pews with kneelers. I can still picture the playground area which backed up to the San Bernardino Freeway when it was just 3 lanes each way. That was 50+ years ago. It's good to see that that one-of-a-kind church building is still being put to good use.

  19. I too went to Central Baptist in the late '70s and early '80s. My father taught at the High School there and I was in the school, along with my siblings, and church from 2nd grade until two weeks into my junior year in 1984. The pictures bring back many memories and it doesn't seemed to have changed much at all. It was full of great memories and was a beautiful place to share God with others. I still live near enough to see the building off of the freeway occasionallyand marvel at how strange and unique it still looks. It's very retro. I was also told that it was built by Lutherans and there used to be one of the high up staircase accessed pulpits that looked like a crows-nest.

    I actually lived in the second house next to the chuch to the west for a number of years as part of my dad's teaching pay. The church owned those two houses and the first one was the nursery. Pastor Batema was great and it was a great church community to grow up in. (In case you went there too, my parents were George and Frances Wood)