When you think of stained glass, what comes to mind may be the grand castles of Medieval England or the cathedrals of Paris. But you don’t have to take a transcontinental flight or a time machine to view some stunning examples of this ancient decorative art.
Known pretty much synonymously as “architectural glass,” “art glass,” “leaded glass,” and “stained glass,” this sculptural element can take form as windows, walls, or ceilings in many of L.A.’s intriguing churches, temples, and other houses of worship – as well as fine dining establishments, financial institutions, hotels, theaters, and more.
And while some of these ornamental pieces actually have come from France, Germany, and other parts across the pond, much of it has come from Southern California’s own artists – some of whom, like Judson Studios, have been crafting away (Middle Ages-style) for over a century.
Here are the five best ways to explore color and light in L.A., as seen through the fragile lens of a thousand-year-old art form.
1. Historic Homes
There’s a certain measure of the affluence of a homeowner by how much stained glass they’ve got in their house. After all, this is an architectural element that isn’t and has never been cheap to manufacture, transport, install, maintain, or restore. And that’s especially true in earthquake territory, where the average person worries about their drinking glasses falling out of the kitchen cabinets and shattering to the ground – not to mention the entire ceiling caving in. But seismic concerns didn’t deter oil baron Edward L. Doheny when it came to his 22-room mansion on Chester Place (not to be confused with Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills), which is now part of the Doheny Campus at Mount St. Mary’s University. You can put the Tiffany glass rotunda of the mansion’s octagonal Pompeian Room to the test during a chamber music concert hosted by the Da Camera Society, which now occupies the house. While many opulent interior décor can still be found in private luxury homes that are off-limits to the public (at this point), you can get close to glassworks of art at other grand estates like the Hollyhock House – whose windows were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright – and the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum. Inside the estate’s 1920s Spanish Revival “La Casa Nueva” (which was once repurposed as El Encanto Convalescent Hospital), you can find nearly 50 stained glass windows that pay tribute to early California, great composers of classical music like Bach and Handel, and literary greats like Shakespeare.
Thanks to modern technology, many of us never have to actually visit a bank, dealing instead in a cash-free society of credit cards, chip technology, and mobile banking. But it wasn’t that long ago that banks were as monumental as any library, city hall, courthouse, or church – because people had to make a pilgrimage to one of these “temples of finance” to deal with matters of money (or lack thereof). Even when their architecture became a bit less imposing and a bit more accessible in the mid-20th century, banks still managed to make a big impression. Lots of L.A.’s historic bank architecture that includes stained glass still miraculously exists! Although a former Home Savings and Loan in Santa Monica is no longer a bank (rather, it’s a New Balance store), you can still wheel and deal with your cash flow at the former Home Savings and Loan (built in 1968, now Chase Bank) at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood and the former Ahmanson Bank and Trust (built in 1959, now First Bank and Trust) in Beverly Hills. Particularly endangered at this moment is the former Lytton Savings Bank on the Sunset Strip (built in 1950, now Chase Bank), which – although designated a Historic-Cultural Monument late last year – is slated for demolition to make way for a new Frank Gehry-designed development. Go visit now, while you can still get a good look at the eight-foot-high, artificially lit concrete screen designed by dalle-de-verre-style glass artist Roger Darricarrere.
3. Churches, Chapels & Temples
You’d expect to see stained glass in an ecclesiastical setting – and L.A.’s church and temple architecture does not disappoint. In the North Valley community of Granada Hills, you can find a relic from the 1964 / ’65 World’s Fair at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church: "Christ, Light of the World," which measures 42 feet wide by 10.5 feet high and was relocated here from New York City in 1966. Also designed by faceted glass artist Roger Darricarrere, it tells the story of Creation, the Fall of Man, the Nativity, the Resurrection, and Revelations in an abstract design using over 14,000 pieces of glass and (literally) a ton of lead. The rest of the church features more glass slabs (the “dalles”) by Darricarrere, creating an otherworldly experience of being surrounded by colored beams of light. You can find more obviously biblical representations in glass at the “Church of the Lighted Window” in La Cañada Flintridge (now known as La Cañada Congregational Church), which actually inspired a poem by 1933 poet laureate John McGroarty. Its windows are a mixture of traditional leaded glass designs by Judson Studios and the defunct L.A. Art Glass as well as faceted glass (though these are from the Loire area of France). It occasionally hosts an open house for folks to come and see and learn about the windows, whether or not you worship there, or anywhere else. In Wilshire Center, the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles also hosts architectural tours (as well as an annual “organ crawl”) during which you can examine their stained glass from Judson Studios, as does the nearby Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Hollywood’s first Jewish temple.
Why limit the enjoyment of stained glass to the living? You can also find gorgeous examples of the ecclesiastical arts in many of our incredible eternal resting places, too. If walking among headstones and on top of graves gives you the heebie-jeebies, you may find yourself a bit more distracted inside any one of these examples of funerary architecture. Take, for instance, the mausoleum at Forest Lawn Glendale – a visit to which is warranted if only for its stained glass version of “The Last Supper” in the Memorial Court of Honor. Likewise, El Portal de la Paz at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier is a so-called “Gateway to Peace” that surrounds its residents and their visitors with Art Deco and mosaic tile, ceiling murals, stained glass skylights, and three 12-foot stained glass windows by Judson Studios (“Dawn” circa 1938, “Life Eternal” circa 1953, and “Christ and the Children” circa 1959). You can also find some of Judson’s work in the crypt of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which are artificially-lit (and therefore visible day or night) since the basement sees no daylight. In the 1990s, Judson Studios fabricated and installed a new stained glass window in the “Arbor of Light Radiance Corridor” at Mountain View Mausoleum in Altadena to complement many of its historic works that have been there since the 1920s when it first opened. With 360-degree reflections of its rose theme, it’s perhaps the most breathtaking feature of the mausoleum – the one area that will knock you dead and leave you there with the rest of your kind.
5. Stained Glass Studios
You can also visit where much of this stained glass has been designed, fabricated, and restored, whether you’re just a spectator or you’re serious about your own stained glass project. Judson Studios regularly hosts tours of their historic facility in the historic neighborhood of Garvanza along the Arroyo Seco, where you can watch their artists cut and paint glass as well as work with real lead. In Santa Monica, you can visit Adamm’s Stained Glass Studio and Art Gallery for all kinds of glass art (etched, beveled, carved, what have you). And in San Pedro, Ancient Arts accepts commission work and restoration projects. If you want to learn the art of stained glass and glass fusing to create something for yourself, several studios host classes and workshops, including Stained Glass and Fusing Supplies in Pasadena.