Olive Through the Ages

Churches: Olive Assembly Church and School

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A large sign posted to a barren tree displays the words "Olive Christian School," "Enroll Now," and "Kindergarten." Beside this tree stands a two-story, white Craftsman Bungalow. Upon closer inspection of the house, a small sign above the porch reads: "Olive Assembly Church," and above the doorway, "16051." This entire scene appears in a black and white photo from the Orange County Archives labeled "Glassell St, Olive, 1963 01 RD."

The setting seemed vaguely familiar, yet I couldn't quite place the location of Olive Assembly Church in Olive. I asked Gordon McClelland if he had any recollection of that house or that church. We had just this photo and another photo from the Orange County Archives to use as a starting point when we began our investigation, searching up and down Glassell for any identifiable landmark. But Glassell has changed dramatically over the years; many of the structures or trees from the 1960s have been altered or removed. Historic aerial maps, old newspaper articles, and telephone directories listing the church at different locations throughout the years yielded tidbits of information; each piece further adding to the perplexity of this quest.

About that time of our research, Gordon had introduced me to Vicki Haninger, a family friend who lived on Glassell in the early 1960s. Vicki aided in our research by contacting Mark Winters of the City of Orange's Public Works Department, who pored over the city's records and files until he uncovered annexation paperwork for the church's second address: "8561 Dowling." This valuable piece of information, along with supplementary photos I found at the Orange County Archives, finally solved the mystery of the church's locations in Olive.

Nearly a year after this article was posted, Phil Brigandi came to me with additional historical information about the early years of this church, which led to my discovery of its true origins and purpose, and the years its founders Peter and Beverly Caruso were with the ministry.

Three-and-a-half years later, Beverly Caruso emailed me to let me know she discovered this website and wanted to contribute content to it, including a photo and enhancements to this article.

Thus, after years of searching for clues to the real story about Olive Assembly Church and School, the answers have at last been revealed.

          

A church and school at the crossroads of changing times

Olive Assembly of God was founded by Reverend Peter Caruso and his wife Beverly in 1961, on what would become a 21-year mission of training and sending out more than 100 full-time Christian workers. The first worship services were held in August at the couple's home on Heim Avenue. The house and orange trees around it would later be cleared away for the construction of Heim Elementary School.

In January 1962, Olive Assembly Church was housed in an old, two-story, white Craftsman Bungalow at 16051 E. Lincoln Avenue, where North Glassell Street ended at the time. A year later, the church had its own school bus and was advertising its Christian school for kindergarteners. But this site was temporary, just as the signs posted outside the house.

The following month, trees and shrubs to the immediate west of the bungalow were cleared away, and by March that area was paved with asphalt. An intersection was made at Lincoln and Glassell, but the portion of road that continued past the intersection dead-ended a little after 450 feet, surrounded by groves on all three sides. The northernmost portion of the unfinished segment of road, in the unincorporated area just north of Glassell, was named Dowling Street.

An article published in the LA Times on June 9, 1963 announced:

"OLIVE - Orange County Planning Commission has approved plans for a church and school building proposed by the Olive Assembly of God Church.

"The structure will be located on the west side of Dowling St., about 150 ft. north of Lincoln Ave."

A 1964 U.S. Geological Survey aerial map shows the first building for the ministry erected in their new location at 8561 Dowling Street. This map also shows the old bungalow gone, replaced by a new structure that 1966 road work photos reveal to be a Chevron service station. Though the Dowling Bridge had been constructed across the Santa Ana River in 1963 and was later joined to Dowling Street north of the river, the section of road that would connect from the south side of the bridge to the dead-ended portion of road beside the church had not yet been built. The Times wrote on July 16, 1964: "Plans and specifications for construction of Dowling St. from Lincoln Ave. to the under-construction Riverside Freeway interchange will be submitted to county supervisors by Road Commis-[sion] July 21.... Dowling will tie into Glassell St. in Orange at Lincoln Ave."

In autumn 1963, the Carusos moved into a home located adjacent to the old St. Paul's Lutheran Church building on Main Street in Olive Heights. They held church services and school for kindergarteners and first graders in that house while construction began on the first building at the Dowling Street site: a structure proposed to serve a dual purpose as a chapel and classrooms. Much of this labor was accomplished by Pastor Caruso with the help of volunteers.

A year later in 1964, the church and school were established at the 1.85-acre site. News about the organization subsequently appeared in local publications. On July 15, 1965, the Times' "Calendar of Events" column listed Reverend Pete Caruso as pastor of Olive Assembly of God church. Caruso's name would appear again as church pastor in the December 1, 1977 "Crusades" article from the Times.

The region surrounding the church was rapidly changing from agricultural to residential, as road work photos from 1963 to 1967 reveal. In January 1963, new homes were being sold near the Fletcher and Glassell intersection, evidenced by the Influential Homes signage at the corner of Glassell at Lincoln. By March 1966, service stations posted at each corner of the intersection indicate an increase in traffic through the area.

After Dowling was joined to Glassell, the entire portion of road was renamed Glassell Street, and the bridge was renamed the Glassell Street Bridge. Over time the name "Dowling" disappeared altogether, replaced by the name "Kraemer" on the northern side of the bridge. In the 1970 telephone directory, the church address was listed as 8561 Glassell Street in Orange, but after annexation of that unincorporated area by the City of Orange in September 1972, the address became 2830 N. Glassell Street.

The ministry retained its original name until this final address change. Soon after, "Olive" in its name began to be phased out and replaced by "Orange." Phone directories published from 1974 to 1979 list the church as Assembly of God - Olive-Orange, and the school as Orange Christian School. In 1982 the Carusos resigned, but the ministry continued under new leadership for many years and was listed as Orange Christian Assembly in 2002.

By 2004 Pyramid Autism Center began sharing the building facilities with the church and school, and became the sole tenant for a few years starting from about 2007, after which time Discovery Day Camp joined as a co-tenant and remained through October 2013. Pyramid Autism Center stayed on as the last tenant to the end of July 2015, though this property that was owned by Southern California Assemblies of God had been sold to an investment firm on March 23, 2015. As of November 2015, all buildings on the site remain vacant.

Caruso family in about 1964
The Caruso family in 1964
(click/tap to view image larger)

In reviewing the history of the ministry, Beverly Caruso says a significant number of families made Olive Assembly their home church throughout the years and the congregation was a close-knit group, with many members remaining in contact with one another well into the 21st century. Hundreds of students attended Orange Christian School. From that initial Kindergarten class, a grade was added each year so children could advance in their schooling. Eventually the school provided classes from kindergarten through eighth grade, with enrollment peaking at approximately 240 students.

Following their 21 years at Olive Assembly, Pete and Beverly worked in the mission field for a while, and then pastored another church for 14 years. In the early 2010s, the couple learned the church and school they had founded in Olive had since been closed and no longer existed—except in the memories of those whose lives had been touched by them.

Sources: Orange County road works photos: 1963-1967, USGS maps: 1964, courtesy Orange County Archives; Pacific Telephone, Orange County White Pages Telephone Directory, Area Code 714, 1965-1967, 1970, 1974-1979, 2002; East Orange County Telephone Directory: Orange-Tustin, Villa Park: 1973; Luskey's Directory: 1963; City of Orange Annexation No. 280 paperwork dated September 14, 1972; Information from Grace, employee at Pyramid Autism Center, conversation on December 8, 2009; Los Angeles Times, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: "Church, School Plans Approved" (June 9, 1963), "Street by Any Other Name Still the Same" (March 19, 1964), "Supervisors to Get Plan for Dowling St." (July 16, 1964), "Crusades" (December 1, 1977), "Calendar of Events" (July 15, 1965); Loving Confrontation, by Beverly Caruso, Bethany House Publishers, 1988, Minneapolis, MN; LoopNet Property Records (November 29, 2015).

          

Olive Assembly of God and Olive Christian Day School Images

Click/tap the thumbnail images below to view larger images in a separate browser window or tab:

Olive Assembly Church, 1963
This 1963 photo shows the sign above the entrance to the bungalow housing Olive Assembly of God Church and School.

Olive Assembly Church, 1963 This is the full photo of the image at left, showing the entire bungalow facade and surrounding area in 1963.
         
Olive Assembly Church, 1963
This photo shows a view looking west at the Olive Assembly of God school bus and bungalow on Lincoln Avenue in 1963.
Olive Assembly Church, 1963 This photo from 1963 shows the bungalow with the dead-ended portion of Glassell Street replacing the groves at its west side.
         
Olive Assembly Church, 1963
This 1963 photo is a view looking east at the Olive Assembly bungalow, and the Influential Homes billboard and signage.
Olive Assembly Church, 1963 This 1963 photo shows the Olive Assembly bungalow with a sidewalk in front of it, and the road realigned.
         
Lincoln at Glassell, 1966
This view looking east past the Glassell Street intersection shows a service station at each corner in 1966.

Lincoln at Glassell, 1966 Another view in 1966 looking west on Lincoln Avenue past the Glassell Street intersection.
         
Assembly of God sign, 2009 This 2009 photo shows signage on the property where Orange Assembly Church and School once operated.   Assembly of God building, 2009 This 2009 view looking south on Glassell past Lincoln Avenue shows a portion of the former sanctuary at right.
         
Glassell intersection, 2009 This 2009 photo shows a view looking northeast on Lincoln Avenue past the Glassell intersection.   Olive Assembly Church sites identified on 1964 map This 1964 USGS map show the old and new sites for Olive Assembly Church and School.
         
Annexation of area by Dowling and Glassell, 1971 This 1971 annexation map shows the portion of road named Dowling just north of Glassell, past the Lincoln intersection.   Olive Assembly Church sites identified on 2004 map This 2004 USGS map shows Orange Assembly Church and Christian School before Pyramid Autism Center moved in.

 

          

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