St. James Presbyterian Church

History of St. James

On October 7, 1951, Dr. John Tufft conducted the first worship service of what became St. James Presbyterian Church at Tarzana's Melendy Country Day School. The church was officially chartered by the Presbytery on January 8, 1952, with 86 members. That same year, the congregation placed a deposit on the present property, then valued at $30,000.

Following the resignation of Dr. Tufft to re-enter the Navy as a chaplain, Dr. Calvin A. Duncan was called to become St. James' Pastor in February, 1953. Soon the congregation began holding services at Lorenzen Mortuary on Tampa at Sherman Way, having outgrown the school.

The first phase of construction at the Ventura Boulevard site was completed in 1954 including Fellowship Hall, classrooms and the kitchen. Two adjoining acres of land were purchased, and the membership reached 435. By 1956, three additional classrooms were built.  Dr. Frank McKean was called as the church's first Assistant Pastor. Plans for a new sanctuary were in progress as the membership grew to 896. An additional 1.3 acres of land were purchased in 1957 including a house and property on Shirley Avenue, which became the youth center.

In November of 1960 Rev. Joseph J. Skelly was called as associate, and the new sanctuary was dedicated. The first service was televised on the program "Great Churches of the Golden West."  Membership climbed to 1295 in 1961.  Dr. Edward H. Jones succeeded Dr. Duncan in January 1963. The Rev. Scott Westmoreland was called as Associate Pastor, and member Charles Tanner began an experimental Christian drama ministry, which later evolved into the Covenant Players.

In 1968, Dr. William S. Findley began his pastorate at St. James.  Early in the 1970's, the congregation sponsored the "Tuesday School" as an outreach to emotionally disturbed young women from Camarillo State Hospital. Reverend Henry Bremer was called and became Associate Pastor soon after. The children's choir, known as the "Sunshine Choir," recorded albums and performed on two network television Christmas Specials. The congregation sponsored two Vietnamese refugee families. Rev. Mark Kliewer was called as the Associate Pastor.

Dr. Findley retired in 1986, having been elected Pastor Emeritus by the congregation. In October, 1987, Dr. Kenneth Baker was called as the fifth pastor of St. James and in 1990, Carl Horton was called and ordained as Associate Pastor. 

The Tarzana area was becoming more commercial. Apartment buildings replaced single family dwellings and aerospace was no longer the major employer. In early 1990's, a contemporary style of worship was initiated along with innovative ideas for reaching the community.

On January 17, 1994, the Northridge earthquake brought havoc on St. James. The ceiling fell and the building sides cracked. A stunned congregation gathered to worship in a tent supplied by the Presbytery of Pittsburgh, PA, and later Fellowship Hall was used as a winter sanctuary. The congregation remained loyal and faithful.

In June, 1995, Dr. Baker, Carl Horton and the Choir Director resigned. For the next six months pastoral leadership was provided by local ministers selected by the Session and assisted by lay leaders. In December, 1995 Rev. Kenneth Tracy was called as Designated Pastor. In 1996 Fellowship Hall was renovated to make it more appropriate for worship. After many meetings and much soul searching, it was decided to demolish the old sanctuary.

Reverend Ken Tracy resigned to serve a mission church in Alaska, and Dr. Don Maddox was called to St. James in April, 1998.

A New Sanctuary Task Force was formed and selected the firm of Dominy & Associates, a well known church architectural firm, to design the new sanctuary. Elder Paul Carlson was available to oversee the sanctuary construction, and Elder Bob Tyler was appointed as the architectural coordinator.

Following their selection, the architects met with the congregation in a workshop format, and a contemporary plan incorporating an informal, semi-circular seating was chosen. The sanctuary occupies 6000 square feet. In addition, a glass front cry room for infants is located adjacent to the sanctuary. The remainder of the building houses the administrative offices for the Pastor, administrator and secretary as well as a choir rehearsal room and a meeting room. The total structure is 9035 square feet.

Stained glass windows were salvaged from the old sanctuary and were refurbished and installed in the new sanctuary. The grand piano and the cross that stood atop the old sanctuary were also recovered. The cross now stands in the patio at the entrance to Fellowship Hall and the piano was returned to the sanctuary. Actual construction of the new sanctuary required nine months, and it was completed in July, 1998. On that occasion, the congregation, led by a bagpiper, moved from worshiping in Fellowship Hall to the new sanctuary. The sanctuary was dedicated on October 11, 1998. In a formal ceremony, the keys to the new sanctuary were presented by Mr. John Pyjar of the architectural firm of Dominy & Associates. Receiving the keys was Elder Danelle Schmidt, the Clerk of Session. Also in attendance were Mr. Charles Licha, the contractor, and representing the church, Elder Bob Tyler, Chair of the Reconstruction Task Force, and Elder Paul Carlson, Project Manager. Representing the Presbytery was Dr. V. Kass Kassouni, the Executive Presbyter and representing the congregation, Dr. Don Maddox. The title of the sermon given by Dr. Maddox that morning was "Rising from the Rubble".

Click New Sanctuary for details of the construction of the New Sanctuary.

The total cost of the new sanctuary was $1,600,000 including landscaping, a patio and a redeveloped parking area. The sale of a portion of the Ventura Boulevard frontage brought $1,000,000. The balance was funded through contributions from other churches, an SBA loan, a loan from the Presbyterian Church USA, fund raisers and individual contributions. As a result, all necessary funds were pledged, donated, raised or committed. A bronze plaque adorns the new sanctuary, a testimony to the dedication of those who made the new St. James a reality.

On January 2, 2005 the Reverend Dr. Don Maddox retired after almost seven years of service to the church. Dr. Maddox was instrumental in bringing life to the new sanctuary and substantially increasing the size of the congregation.