Recently we took a look back at the Civil Rights-era schism that occurred in the over housing discrimination.
But what of the building itself?
Designed by 25-year-old English architect Ernest Coxhead in 1888, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977—the first building in Sierra Madre to achieve such a distinction. (The second, the John Carlton Pegler House, was dedicated in 1988.)
The honor was well-deserved. In his heyday, Coxhead was one of the most admired architects in California, though not without his eccentricities.
Described in a 2004 profile in the San Francisco Chronicle as “a proper English gentleman--erudite, reserved, hardworking and meticulous, a bit of a martinet with his children and a High Anglican to boot”--Coxhead emigrated to the U.S. in 1885 and was virtually the house architect for the Episcopal Church in Southern California.
Together with his older brother, Almeric, also an architect, Coxhead designed more than a dozen churches in California, as well as other buildings. Though he garned the respect of many, Coxhead's idiosyncratic designs were also labeled "bewildering," "fairy magic" and "insane."
It was a windstorm that led Coxhead to Sierra Madre. On Oct. 10, 1887, a violent gale blew through the town, destroying the wood frame church that had previously served Sierra Madre's Episcopal congregation.
Working closely with parishioners, Coxhead designed an elegant replacement, utilizing Norman, Romanesque and Gothic details of churches in his native England. The church was completed in 1888 and dedicated in 1889.
Among other examples of Coxhead's local work are the Church of the Angels in Pasadena, Epiphany Church in Lincoln Heights, and the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana. All date from the 1880s.
Coxhead stopped designing churches in the 1890s and moved to San Francisco, where he concentrated mainly on private homes; also providing the blueprint for the Golden Gate Valley Branch Library, the Beta Theta Pi Chapter House in Berkeley and Cedar Gables Inn in Napa. He died in 1933.
Of the church's unique features is a 19th century bell from an English steamship called City of Dublin, which ran aground off the Oregon coast in 1883. This proves oddly coincidental, since the church also appeared in The Fog, a 1980 horror film about a "ghost crew" of a shipwrecked vessel wreaking havoc on a small Northern California town.
The church has also been featured most recently in and "many [other] films and movies", according to Rev. Michael Bamberger.
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension was added to the NRHP on Aug. 19, 1977, after a nomination from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, which called it “Sierra Madre’s most important link to its community origins and a lasting institution which has helped to guide its development.”