Okay, mythbusting is a strong term for this article, but it apparently did get your attention.  The intent of this article is to solely to resolve conflicting information — and there is a lot of conflicting information about St. Isidore —  by citing specific, sourced information to present our version of that nebulous creation we like to consider the truth.  But as always, we admit we may be wrong.  If you have information that contradicts what we put out there, let us know — but please, if possible, use sources that can be verified.  Although sometimes family legends are more interesting

 

Is St. Isidore Church the oldest building in Los Alamitos?

No.  But nobody in any position of authority  really makes that claim.   A strong argument can be made that it’s the oldest complete non-residential structure.  The Save St. Isidore Plaza group refers to the church as “the oldest public building in Los Alamitos.”

So what are the the oldest buildings in town?   The Layton house on Chestnut (reportedly built in 1897) , and probably two other houses on that street, are older than the church, and so is the part of the sugar beet factory still stands — the Grating Pacific cement structure which was once part of the Sugar Beet Factory warehouse (located behind the Briggeman offices on Sausalito/Briggeman Drive, but most visible from the high school parking lot).  Although the factory was originally constructed in 1896-97, the warehouse was destroyed by a fire in 1921 (fatally toasting thousands of 100-pound sacks of Clark’s sugar), so a sturdier concrete version of the warehouse was  rebuilt later that same year.

When was St. Isidore’s Church built?

The original St. Isidore structure was built of brick. When it suffered severe damage during the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the church was rebuilt in the Spanish Revival style that it is today.

St. Isidore’s exact date of construction and even the creation of the parish itself seems to be in some question.  The Chamber of Commerce website says it was 1922, the Save St. Isidore website says 1921, and other sites have used the date 1923.)  We tend to believe the St. Isidore site, but since it doesn’t cite its source, we have to reserve some judgment.    [Someday some energetic soul will nail down this simple fact by perusing the back issues of such newspapers as the Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana Library), the Anaheim Bulletin (available on microfilm at the Anaheim Historical Society site at the Museo), or the Long Beach Press-Telegram (now available at the Long Beach Historical Society).
Not having a building of their own, the new parish apparently met in other buildings in town.  The Save St. Isidore website says they met in Felts General Store or the Harmona Hotel.  (Question:  Was Felts even around at this time?  By this time, hadn’t most businesses moved two blocks over to the paved Los Alamitos Blvd? )  It is possible they also met in a tent or at the Congregational Church building, as Bixby Land Company flyers from the late 1890s state the new church was a “union church” which meant theat multiple denominations met there.  Some early town histories also indicate that church had let other denominations use the building for services.  It is possible they even met in a a tent — as other denominations did at times.  Whatever the case, sometime after this, the Alamitos parishioners asked the Bixby Land Company for some property to build a church. The Orange County records show the Bixby Land Company recorded the transfer of ownership of the land to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Monterey and Los Angeles on August 21, 1924 (Book 536, Page 323).  The grant fee was $10.   The original structure was made of brick, and longtime resident Marilynn Poe says the research done by the Save St. Isidore committee shows that construction of the church was completed in 1926. A “News from Neighboring Community” article in a March 1926 issue of the Press-Telegram says that residents attended a service at “St. Isadore.”   The church building suffered much damage in the March 1933 earthquake, and had to be rebuilt (this time in the Spanish Revival style that it is today), so technically, it would be more accurate to say the St. Isidore structure wasn’t built until after 1933.

 

Isidore — Isadore — How is it really spelled?

Many original documents and most newspaper articles referencing the church — ranging from newspaper listings (placed by the church itself) noting their times of services, and articles in the Enterprise in the 1950s, referencing the womens auxiliary or when the hall was used to host American Legion dances) spell it as St.. Isadore. In some of the oral histories compiled by Cal State Long Beach and the Rancho Los Alamitos foundation, the old-timers spell it out with an “a.”  However, the grant deed from the Bixby Land Company reportedly says “St. Isidore.” with an “i.”  The spellings are often interchangeable, but Isadore is the spelling most frequently used prior to 1960.

 

Was the church built by Mexican farmers?

St. Isidore was the patron saint of farmers, so part of the story derives from this but all the facts don’t square with the claim that the church was built by Mexican farmers.  First, a look at the 1920 census records show that most of the Mexicans in Los Alamitos were not farmers.  Some ran the pool hall.  Some ran one of the hotels, while others were laundry agents, mechanics, a gardener, sales clerks at local store, a carpenter who did odd jobs,  laborers at the sugar mill, the lumberyard, the brick yard or the rock mill.  A couple were truck drivers.  Of course, some worked in the local beet fields and dairy farms, but most of the farmworkers were migrants who moved from area to area during the harvests, and did not live in this town full-time.  (And judging by police and newspaper reports, nor was attending church one of their priorities in life.)

In addition, the church served all the Catholics in the area and Mexicans were not the only Catholics.  According to the 1930 census, there were 206 total families in the Los Alamitos district.  Only 57 familes were listed as of Mexican descent.

There were 21 families of Belgian farmers (almost 100 residents counting children), and, although many were known to attend services at Catholic  churches in Long Beach, other Belgians played an active role in the church. Anne Watte served as head of the Auxiliary in the 1950s. Most Belgians (who also called themselves Flemish-Americans) were located on the Fred and Susannah Bixby Ranch properties south of Los Alamitos on Bryant Avenue (now Orangewood), Bixby Avenue (now Chapman), Anaheim Road (also called Ocean Ave but now the 405/Garden Grove Freeway) and Westminster Road.  You also had a good size number of Irish families – the Reagans, Malloys, Brennan, O’Connor, Flanagan, Dempseys, and a sprinkling of French (like the Labourdettes) and Polish families (like the Jusievicz) as well.  Just playing the odds, the majority of these would have also been Catholic.

This accounts for only 78 families, just over one third of the Los Alamitos population.  And some, although probably not many, of these older Mexican families may have been Protestant according to the records of the Congregationalist minsters who also preached to the Mexican farmers and migrant workers in Spanish in the early days of the Sugar factory.

And from a practical matter, the church was built by craftsman, people who knew how to build. No doubt, some of the workers — perhaps even a majority — were Mexican, many of them beet field and factory workers who volunteered some time.  But after the 1933 earthquake, more stringent building codes were instituted, and work had to done by skilled craftsman — not volunteers.  Rush Labourdette and ___ Sjostrom were also known to have done work on some of the labor on the walls and flooring of the church during the post-Earthquake rebuild.

All the above being said, the church of St. Isidore served not only the Catholics of the Los Alamitos area, but also to those in la colonia of Mexican farmworkers in the Stanton area, la Colonia Independencia in West Anaheim, now served by St. Justin Martyr,  as well as East Long Beach and Wintersburg (now West Huntington Beach).   Catholics from the communities came to attend Mass at St Isidore Church in Los Alamitos, and get married, be baptized and attend jamaicas (bazaars).

The church was originally under the direct care of the mother Church, St. Boniface, in Anaheim.  But in 1941 St. Isidore was assigned to the Columbard orders of Irish priests and nuns.  Fathers John McFadden and Robert Ross, had already been conducting masses in the area and residing at St. Isidore in 1939. Father Kevin McNally, ordained in 1941 at age 27, came to Los Alamitos shortly in the early 1940s.   {A more complete list of St. Isidore clerics is listed below),

Father John McFadden (Father Juan to the Mexican population), who served at St. Isidore in the late 1930s and 1940s, was remembered for riding his bicyle all over West OC to visit visit parishioners at the colonias of Mexican farmworkers as far away as west Anaheim, central Garden Grove and Westminster.

McFadden, called Father Juan by the Mexicans,  is remembered by some for bicycling miles to to visit local parishioners, some who who lived at a distance like Ocean View, la Colonia Manzanillo (Euclid/Seventeenth Streets, Garden Grove), la Colonia in Stanton, la Colonia Independencia off Katella in west Anaheim, Garden Grove, Wintersburg down Huntington Beach way, Barber City, and other localities.     Many former residents of the Westminster barrio also remember that one of their friends would drive his father’s 1929 Chevy to Los Alamitos and bring a Spanish–speaking priest back to their area for services. [ref]http://www.somosprimos.com/sp2010/spmar10/spfeb10.htm[/ref]

A September 19, 1948 Press-Telegram article about the formation of St. Pius V Parish to serve Buena Park and Cypress, provides some background on the Los Alamitos parish and when it was subdivided to accommodate the population growth in Orange County. :

St. Isador’s [sic] Parish covered Los Alamitos, Stanton, Independencia, Garden grove, Manzanillo and Westminster.
Early in the year Los Alamitos became all of St. Isador’s Parish with Rev. Father John Prenderville as Pastor, and Blessed Sacrament Parish was created in Westminster, with Rev. Fr John McFadden, originally St. Isador’s Parish pastor, as head of the new unit, assisted by Rev. Fr. Robert Ross and Joseph Martin.

On October 29, 1949, the Press-Telegram ran another article, noting that “Parish Hall May Be Finished Next Week”

Construction of the new hall of St, Isidore’s Catholic Parish, Reagan and Katella Streets, Los Alamitos, is expected to be completed next week, according to Rev. Albert Duggan, Pastor.  The hall will be Los Alamitos’ first building specifically erected for recreation, since up to now the fire hall, the fire hall has been used for socials.  The hall will provide a place for the children of the parish to play.  Amusement equipment is being installed for this purpose.  The building is 30×70 feet and will be finished in tan stucco..  [note: Not quite sure the statement “this is the first building specifically erected for recreation” is correct.;  The original Sugar Factory clubhouse constructed in 1917, fell into this category as well.]

The St. Hedwig website  lists the following succession of pastors for St. Isidore Church;  (I can’t figure out their dating process, and there seems to be some notable absences like Father Robert Ross, who is frequently mentioned in other articles and personal memories about St. Isidore Church).

Succession of Pastors

Rev. John Purtill (1924-25)
Rev. Delfino Garibay (1930-35)
Rev. J. J. Sullivan (1925)
Silviano Garcia (1935-39)
Lawrence D. Ryan (1925)
Rev. Jose Lopez (1939-42)
Rev. Miguel Santacana (1925-26)
Rev. John McFadden (1942-48)
Rev. Victor Deby (1926)
Rev. Albert Duggan (1948-50)
Rev. Msgr. Jose Gutierrez (1926)
Rev. Daniel Kielty (1950-51)
Rev. Luciano Ravelo (1926-28)
Rev. Daniel Leary (1951-52)
Rev. Juan Deigo (1928)
Rev. Samuel Hynes (1952-54)
Rev. Dominic Daly (1954-62)

 

Who was St. Isidore?-

from The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) –

A Spanish daylabourer; b. near Madrid, about the year 1070; d. 15 May, 1130, at the same place.  He was in the service of a certain Juan de Vargas on a farm in the vicinity of Madrid.  Every morning before going to work he was accustomed to hear a Mass at one of the churches in Madrid.  One day his fellow-labourers complained to their master that Isidore was always late for work in the morning.  Upon investigation, so runs the legend, the master found Isidore at prayer, while an angel was doing the ploughing for him.  On another occasion his master saw an angel ploughing on either side of him, so that Isidore’s work was equal to that of three of his fellow-labourers.  Isidore is also said to have brought back to life the deceased daughter of his master and to have caused a fountain of fresh water to burst from the dry earth in order to quench the thirst of his master.  He was married to Maria Torribia, a canonized saint, who is venerated in Spain as Maria della Cabeza, from the fact that her head (Spanish, cabeza ) is often carried in procession especially in time of drought.  They had one son, who died in his youth.  On one occasion this son fell into a deep well and at the prayers of his parents the water of the well is said to have risen miraculously to the level of the ground, bringing the child with it, alive and well.  Hereupon the parents made a vow of continence and lived in separate houses.  Forty years after Isidore’s death, his body was transferred from the cemetery to the church of St. Andrew.  He is said to have appeared to Alfonso of Castile, and to have shown him the hidden path by which he surprised the Moors and gained the victory of Las Nevas de Tolosa, in 1212.  When King Philip III of Spain was cured of a deadly disease by touching the relics of the saint, the king replaced the old reliquary by a costly silver one.  He was canonized by Gregory XV, along with Sts. Ignatius, Francis Xavier, Teresa, and Philip Neri, on 12 March, 1622.  St. Isidore is widely venerated as the patron of peasants and day-labourers.  The cities of Madrid, Leon, Saragossa, and Seville also, honour him as their patron.  His feast is celebrated on 15 May.

(From Old Catholic Encyclopedia, circa 1913)

The name was in use in Belgium in the late 1800s.  Lest it be forgotten, Belgium was long part of the Spanish Hapsburg domains.  The Protestant Dutch revolted and became the Netherlands while predominantly Catholic Belgium stayed loyal to the Spanish crown until it got its own independence in the late 1800s.

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