Some things just fascinate me, and become consuming, burning desires. Such it has been with this corner in Los Angeles, the corner of Adams Boulevard and Figueroa Street, which has long been on my list of places I just had to visit and write about.
The story is shockingly uninteresting. Early on during the pandemic, T-Mobile offered, as part of its T-Mobile Tuesdays promotions, a free spicy chicken sandwich from Popeyes. Free is a pretty solid price, and I’d never been to a Popeyes, so A and I downloaded the deal and searched one out. It was here, in a strip mall on the northeastern corner of Adams and Figueroa (called Fig by locals). As we made our way slowly through the drive-thru, we noticed the other corners of the intersection: two beautiful churches and the original Auto Club building. I’ve wanted to come back ever since.
It turns out that while the buildings are indeed lovely, this area is much more historic and fascinating than I had imagined. In 1901, Los Angeles oil magnate Edward Doheny purchased a mansion in Chester Place, the city’s original gated community of Victorian mansions. By the time of his death in 1935, Doheny, who had been caught up in the Teapot Dome scandal of bribing government officials and was looking for a bit more privacy, owned most of the homes in the community, and the street itself.
In the 1920s, Doheny commissioned a Catholic church to be build adjacent to his community. He had converted to Catholicism and wished to have a beautiful Spanish-style church within easy walking distance. In 1925, the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church was dedicated, also called the Church of Holy Oils for the manner in which its patron had made his fortune. The church is ornate, with beautiful tiled domes sitting both atop its center and on a graceful bell tower. (The noon-time bell “concert” began around 11:45, and was lovely.) The church, which wasn’t open to visit when I arrived – hence no photos of the inside – sits on the northwestern corner of the Adams and Figueroa intersection.
Just north of the church itself is a castle-looking building that is part of the parish school. It is gorgeous, as well.
If one continues west on Adams Boulevard, immediately past the church is the remains of Chester Place and the historic St. James Park neighborhood. In 1962, the surviving homes of Chester Place were donated to Mount Saint Mary’s University to open a second campus here, and the campus was named for the Doheny family. (Many other buildings throughout Los Angeles also bear that name.) If campus is open, make sure to check in (around the corner along St. James Park) and visit, if only to see the 22-room Doheny Mansion, the family’s original house. It is stunning!
Returning to the intersection along the south side of Adams Boulevard, you will pass the long facade of the 1921 Automobile Club building, which continues to hold the offices of AAA. The entrance on the southwestern corner of Adams and Figueroa has beautiful iron work, and sits beneath a colorful tile dome.
The church on the southeastern corner of the interaction is St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral. Also closed on the day of my visit, the exterior is boxy, but with a beautiful facade of carved stone and huge doors. The church was built in 1925, and the construction crews of the dueling new churches must have been a sight to see!
Shockingly, my visit did not include Popeyes. I opted this time for Dirt Dog, a local chain of hot dog restaurants known for putting pretty much everything on top of the classic lunchtime snack. Mine had pastrami, cheese, cilantro, and I don’t even remember what else, all encased in a buttered bun reminiscent of a lobster roll. What didn’t wind up all over my hands was delicious!
For more than a year, this corner has haunted my dreams, making me yearn to return and explore. Well, I finally did. A forty minute or so walk each way from downtown led to the beautiful historic buildings I had expected, and the cool story of the Doheny family about which I knew nothing. Add some good and messy food, and Adams/Figueroa is truly the most interesting street corner in Los Angeles.
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