Olive Through the Ages

Churches: St. Paul's Lutheran church and school

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St. Paul's Lutheran Church is the first church I recall seeing in the neighborhood; its A-frame structure prominently standing at the corner of Heim and Canal since the early 1960s.

Until my studies on Olive's history began, I had no idea the old wooden church on Lincoln Avenue next to Olive Heights—that I knew to be North Orange Christian Church—was originally built by the Lutheran church group. Further studies revealed that the congregation's first church was purchased from Olive's Presbyterian church group. (Special thanks to Lisa Ackerman of Orange Community Historical Society for supplying critical information about St. Paul's early years, which opened doors to important discoveries about the congregation's church and school buildings in Olive.)

St. Paul's Lutheran Church and School is the most successful of the four early church groups in the Olive area. Though challenged financially a number of times throughout its history, the leadership at St. Paul's made wise and resourceful decisions in managing the growth and direction of the church and school, with the assistance and support of their faithful congregation. As a result, the organization is the oldest, continually-operating entity from the history of Olive.


Growing through time reading the signs

Before St. Paul's Lutheran Church and School was established in Olive Heights, local members of the Lutheran community traveled by horse and buggy to St. John's Lutheran Church and School in Old Towne Orange. Children without means of making the daily commute attended Olive Grammar School. As the years ensued, the trip to Orange grew too time-intensive, so members sought to establish their own congregation.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church and School was organized in April 1907, and the former Presbyterian Church sanctuary was purchased that summer. The sanctuary was renovated, then dedicated on September 8 that year, with Pastor August Berner delivering his first sermon the next Sunday. Three weeks later, three lots on Main Street were purchased for the construction of a new sanctuary, parsonage, and teacherage. On September 7, 1908 St. Paul's Christian Day School opened in the sanctuary, with Pastor Berner also serving as teacher.

On March 30, 1913, the newly constructed sanctuary began functioning as both a center of worship and classroom, since the school building would not be constructed until nearly a decade later. When completed in 1922, the two-story school house consisted of two classrooms, an office, and a parish hall containing a kitchen and stage on the lower floor.

Two key members serving the organization at this time both arrived in 1916. Reverend William A. Theiss served as pastor, principal, and teacher until 1925, and Adolph W. Schmid served as principal and teacher until 1951. Dedicated and loyal, Schmid saw the school through many turbulent periods, from World War I to the Korean War.

Following World War II, enrollment at the school declined, and in 1947 until 1952 a lack of funding forced the closure of primary grades. Students from the first to sixth grades were sent to Immanuel Lutheran School in Orange; transportation provided by St. Paul's beginning in 1949. By 1952, when early "baby boomers" reached grade school age, St. Paul's Christian Day School re-opened. Initially first through sixth grades were re-established, with seventh and eighth grades added the subsequent year.

As the population in Orange County continued expanding throughout the 1950s, plans were made for the relocation of church and school facilities. In 1957, Roland Woods sold property at the corner of Heim and Canal to the organization, and construction for the new school building began on April 12, 1958, with dedication services held on September 7 that year. Construction for the new church sanctuary was begun 1962, completed in July 1963, and dedicated that same month along with a new office wing. The following year, a temporary parish hall and additional classrooms were added.

In 1965 the property in Olive was sold, and thereafter additional local property was acquired for the expansion of the school and its facilities. In 1969, the Lutheran High Association announced their purchase of property on Santiago Blvd. for the construction of Orange Lutheran High School which opened in 1973. St. Paul's multi-purpose fellowship hall and gymnasium, under construction in 1976, was dedicated in April 1977. St. Paul's Extended Day Care Center was established in 1981 for students attending both St. Paul's and Heim Elementary School down the street. In 1984, the Nursery wing was added to the church and dedicated.

The continually growing school enrollment prompted the organization to seek expansion opportunities. When Heim Elementary School closed in June 1984 due to low enrollment, Orange Unified School District put the property up for sale and St. Paul's acquired the property in May 1985. The new school for Kindergarten through 8th grades opened that autumn. The Early Childhood Development Center (Pre-School) also opened that year at the vacated school facilities next to the gymnasium.

As early as 1995, discussions were held with Ascension Lutheran Church of Garden Grove/Anaheim regarding a potential merger that materialized in November 1998. Prior to the merger, Ascension Lutheran's congregation had purchased the home next door to the Early Childhood Development Center, owned at the time by church member Tom Render. The home was subsequently converted into the Infant/Toddler Bungalow.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church and school system continues to thrive throughout the present decade. As seen by its history from its early years in Olive, its success and longevity can be attributed to the dedication and sacrifices made by its leaders and congregation, as well as the vision of members in charge of the organization. Its vital presence in the community indicates its longevity will likely continue for decades to come.

Sources: St. Paul's Lutheran Church History: 1907-2007, A Century of Blessings, by Sue Cramer, published 2007; Our Years of Blessings - St. Paul's History: 1907-1957; History of Orange County, California With Biographical Sketches, Samuel Armor, 1921, Orange County, CA; Orange Lutheran High School Web site (http://www.lhsoc.org/About Us accessed March 2011).


St. Paul's Lutheran church and school images

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

Olive School, 1899
St. Paul's first church from 1907 shows modifications to the original Presbyterian sanctuary from 1898.
St. Paul's church circa 1920s St. Paul's second church was completed in 1913 near the site of the first church. This photo was taken circa the mid-1920s.
St. Paul's Lutheran School, 1927
St. Paul's Lutheran School 1927 class portrait, including teacher Adolf W. Schmid.
St. Paul's Lutheran School, 1933 St. Paul's Lutheran School 1933 class portrait, including teacher Adolf W. Schmid.
1899 class portrait By 1967 the former St. Paul's sanctuary was owned by Tzaddi Wedding Chapel and Metaphysical Center.   1919 school building This photo from 1982 shows the now weathered sanctuary owned by North Orange Christian Church.
1878 school bell This photo shows North Orange Christian Church in 2009, including the former St. Paul's Church and School buildings.   1963 school building courtyard This 2006 photo shows the former St. Paul's School building constructed in 1922.
Civic Center building, 2009 This 2008 photo shows the current St. Paul's Lutheran Church sanctuary, built in 1963.
  Side and rear view of Civic Center building This 2008 photo shows St. Paul's Lutheran School for grades K-8 since 1985. The site was formerly used by Heim Elementary School.


Church and school locations in Olive

Lisa Ackerman's information about St. Paul's first and second sanctuaries in Olive sparked my investigation of old photos and 1929 Sanborn map, the latter source suggested by Phil Brigandi. Through this study I learned the first church (the Presbyterian Church built in 1898) was retained even after the second church and parochial school were constructed. After the second church was completed in 1913, the first sanctuary was relocated to the west of the school, and appears in the 1959 USGS aerial photo, though does not appear in the 1964 USGS aerial photo.

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

Presbyterian Church at Olive
This 1899 photo shows the Presbyterian Church. St. Paul's would organize and purchase this structure in 1907.
St. Paul's first and second churches This detail of a 1912 photo shows the first church from 1907 and second church which would be completed in 1913.
First and second church and school
This detail of a photo taken circa 1922 shows the first church relocated to the west of the newly completed school.

St. Paul's buildings in 1926 This detail of a 1926 photo shows the first and second sanctuaries, and the parochial school.
Sanborn map detail from 1929
This detail from the 1929 Sanborn map has been marked to show the locations of the churches and school since 1907.
1959 photo showing first church This detail from a 1959 USGS aerial photo shows both the first and second churches and school.





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