La Jolla’s St. James Church exhibit touts Mid-Century Modern places of worship in San Diego


There must be something special about the Clairemont Lutheran Church at 4271 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.

With its reaching spire and etched depiction of God on the exterior wall, the Mid-Century Modern-style church is the focus of photos in the “San Diego Mid-Century Modern Places of Worship” exhibit, on view at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 743 Prospect St., now through Sunday, Oct. 27.

Held in connection with the La Jolla Historical Society’s current exhibition “Julius Shulman: Modern La Jolla,” the St. James’ exhibit is comprised of 60 pieces in three sections: 1) the winning and honorably mentioned submissions from a photo competition in both the “age 18 and younger” and “adult” categories; 2) images by architectural photographer Darren Bradley; and 3) a collection of George Lyons’ photos of Robert Des Lauriers’ architectural work.

Des Lauriers, Bradley and the youth winner, Madeline Thiel, 15, all featured the Clairemont Lutheran Church in some form or another in their submissions.

Madeline, a student at La Jolla High School, told the Light she did not have much knowledge about Mid-Century Modern architecture prior to entering the contest, but after visiting the churches on the list provided by St. James to photograph them, she started to notice more and more.

“This photo contest was a cool thing to be a part of,” she said. Of her winning submission, Madeline explained: “That church was my last stop of the day. I didn’t want to take any more photos, but I went and I was drawn to the work done to the front. I took a bunch of photos from the same spot to get the angle I wanted. I had to get down really low to get a worm’s-eye view. I guess it turned out right.”

Unlike Madeline, exhibit curator and St. James Rev. Mark Hargreaves had an pre-existing passion for architecture.

“Since I came to California from England, I enjoyed seeing more Mid-Century Modern architecture — especially in San Diego,” he said. “I started to take an interest in the churches of this design.”

When the La Jolla Historical Society announced it would be showcasing a collection of photos of Mid-Century Modern architecture by Julius Shulman, Hargreaves decided to follow suit.

For the Church’s photo competition, Hargreaves invited submissions by photographers under age 18, through the non-profit program Outside the Lens, and by adults. Some photographs document the entire church, others significant close-ups. While one section is dedicated to the winners and the highly commended honorable mentions, all submitted photos will be available for viewing at the exhibit via a slideshow.

Another section is dedicated to the work of photographer Darren Bradley.

“He is well-known for his architectural photography, and I discovered him through a book I purchased, ‘Mid-Century Modern Architecture Travel Guide,’ when I was first exploring my interest in Mid-Century Modern architecture,” Hargreaves said. “Darren Bradley took all the photos in the book, and I was delighted to learn he lives in La Jolla! He takes lots of photographs of churches, and I had the pleasure of meeting him, and he very kindly has given us permission to display his photos.”

The third section focuses on the architectural work of Robert Des Lauriers as documented by George Lyons. Des Lauriers is an architect, based out of La Mesa, who designed more than 50 churches in the San Diego area. “Locally, he went by the name ‘Mr. Church,’ ” Hargreaves said. “Lyons took lots of photographs of his work.”

Walter DuMelle, St. James’ administration director added: “Most people are very unaware of the architecture they pass every single day. I was unaware of some of the architectural uniqueness of these places, too. But being able to isolate these places, and showcase them with these photos, allows us to see them with fresh eyes.”

Hargreaves echoed: “Buildings always speak to us. In the Mid-Century Modern era (1930s-1960s), some congregations wanted to build something to say something new. Some congregations of the time wanted to be more ambitious. They wanted to have modern buildings, partly because they wanted to show confidence that their faith wasn’t old fashioned and could be expressed in a modern form. In this brave new world of post-World War II suburbia, congregations wanted to make the point that faith was part of the New World and part of the optimism that was looking into the future.

“Coming from England, where we don’t have this type of architecture, I have a great appreciation for what I think gets taken advantage of. I hope to share that to help people realize what is so great about the architecture around here. I want people to notice these structures and think about the built environment. What are religious buildings saying to us?”

Looking to answer some of these questions, Hargreaves will present a lecture, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4 at St. James.

“There is a feast of Mid-Century Modern architecture in this corner of La Jolla, and I think anyone with an interest will enjoy our show as a complement to the Shulman show across the street at the Historical Society,” Hargreaves said. “It’s a celebration of Mid-Century Modern architecture in San Diego.”

IF YOU GO: “San Diego Mid-Century Modern Places of Worship” is on view through Oct. 27 at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 743 Prospect St., La Jolla. Free admission. There will be a related lecture by Rev. Mark Hargreaves, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4. The closing reception is 3 p.m. Oct. 27, when the contest prizes will be awarded to the winners. (858) 459-3421.