St. Bede Given Green Light to Demolish, Rebuild Parish Hall

Photo courtesy Jim Saake
The Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for the demolition of the St. Bede the Venerable Roman Catholic Church parish hall, which served as the church from 1952-1968, despite the objections of several residents and parishioners.

The beloved parish hall at St. Bede the Venerable Roman Catholic Church in La Cañada Flintridge is one step closer to being demolished and replaced with a new building that would better serve parishioners and the school.
Despite hearing pleas from community members requesting for preservation and modernization rather than replacement, the city’s Planning Commission unanimously approved three resolutions last week giving St. Bede a conditional use permit that allows demolition of the Spanish mission-style building and redevelopment of the courtyard, a tree removal permit and a variance to allow for the reduction of parking onsite parking spaces.
The new structure will be 14,746 square feet, which is nearly 4,000 less than the existing parish hall, and includes a large multipurpose room that supports the church’s “myriad community services,” according to Mike McCullough, who serves as chair of the St. Bede Building and Grounds Committee. The project will also provide St. Bede a new basketball court that can accommodate volleyball functions, a portable stage, commercial kitchen, parent education room, music classroom and storage space.
“I think what we’re doing is the result of a lot of collaboration within the parish, meeting with all the ministries to meet the needs of the different groups within the parish,” McCullough said. “And I think we’ve come up with a solution that is respectful of the balance of the property and complements the other structures that are on campus.”
The approval came with four amendments, the biggest one regarding parking. The project, which is expected to take about 18 months, would reduce the number of parking spaces at St. Bede from 157 to 154. Church officials told the commission of a shared-use parking agreement with adjacent schools St. Francis and Flintridge Prep, but Vice Chair Henry Oh expressed concern about the possibility of such an agreement suddenly terminating. The panel agreed that it must be notified 120 days prior to any cancellation of the arrangement between the three schools.
Mark Kindhouse agreed with his fellow commissioner and also requested that St. Bede submit a document that outlines the current uses of the hall that also catalogs the dates and times for such uses because it goes hand-in-hand with the parking situation.
“What we’re doing is protecting us, the parishioners and everybody else,” Kindhouse said. “Let us show you what you’re doing. What we’re asking is that they give us a blueprint of how they operate and how their parking is going to fit in organizing their events.”
The church’s plans were contested by several La Cañada residents. There were a total of 46 written comments submitted to the city and several asked that the Planning Commission not approve the permits.
Those against the project argue that the parish hall is significant to the city’s history and should be preserved. Longtime resident James Saake wrote a comment highlighting that historic structures in accordance with the Mills Act did not include commercial properties, and that the city should pride itself in preserving the Spanish-revival architectural design of the parish hall as Santa Barbara has with its buildings.
“Let’s be creative and let’s save this,” he told the panel. “Let’s not reduce this to a strip mall and tract houses in La Cañada. I really would like to see the city to revisit the historical significance of this.”
Susan Koleda, LCF director of community development, reminded the commission and stakeholders that the St. Bede parish hall did not meet the criteria for preservation when the city adopted a historic preservation ordinance and registry of historic structures last year.
Another resident expressed concern over the removal of trees from the courtyard, but Chair Mike Hazen noted that the plan includes replacement of each tree as well as an addition of six trees.
The panel acknowledged that it was not an easy decision after reading people’s stories and emotional connection to the structure.
“I struggled with that idea of removing something that is old, but I always go back to the comment from [historic preservationist] William Murtaugh that says, ‘At its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future,’” said Commissioner Samir Mehrotra. “I heard all the concerns, but like our fellow commissioner [Jeffrey McConnell] said, this is not the purview of the commission. This is something between the church and their constituents to be able to determine what the best use is. Is it a new building? Is it an existing building? That’s probably not our place and time to look at. However, based strictly on the zoning code, this is a code compliant building.”
The hall was originally built in 1952 by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and temporarily served as a church. As the St. Bede community grew, so did the need for more space, and a new, modern-style church was constructed and opened in 1968.
McCullough said that much effort was made in finding alternatives to demolition but found none that would benefit the school and parish.
“It was determined that despite our best efforts, that no matter what we did, we could not achieve a successful transformation of [the current structure] and still meet the program needs of the parish correctly because you have so many existing restraints,” McCullough said. “However, I understand and recognize that different people will have different perspectives and you’re never going to have 100% buy-in on what you do.”
St. Bede Principal Liz Bozzo participated in the public comments via Zoom and said with enrollment — which is currently at 233 — increasing next year, “having that basketball court and those facilities for our students to be able to get together as a full community in one building is much needed. The old parish hall served its purpose but we do need to move forward and put in a new kitchen so we have a hot lunch program that is accessible for our students.”