Interview with Dana Graham on the History of Neighborhood Church and the Yule Parlor Parade
There were no churches for the few families living on the Peninsula in the early development of Palos Verdes. This void inspired a group of mothers to organize Bible classes in their homes. By 1937, Malaga Cove School became a place of worship for this Community Church - which evolved into the Neighborhood Church in 1939. Guest ministers served during this time, and Easter sunrise service was held atop a hill on Via del Monte in a beautiful natural setting.
Dr Dennis Smith, a former medical missionary to China, became superintendent of the Sunday School and dedicated himself to that position from 1935 to 1960. Our Christian Education Building (Dennis Smith Hall) honors this man for his spiritual leadership in our church school program.
After World War II, the flourish of building and families moving to the Peninsula necessitated the exploration for a large sanctuary to accommodate the growing congregation. A full-time minister was a requirement as well. Two brief pastorates preceded the creative ministry of Rev. Richard Dawson who served from 1950 to 1959. During his pastorship we bought the old Haggarty Estate for $60,000, began renovations that initiated the creation of this beautiful church, and affiliated with the Congregational Christian Church. This building and its lovely grounds seem to have spirituality and are well suited for the purpose.
Our present affiliation with United Church of Christ took place in 1961, following the merger of Congregational Churches and Evangelical and Reform Churches. Neighborhood Church has continued to have a creative ministry under the leadership of its clergy and laity.
We are proud of our strong commitment to mission and are enriched by the sharing. Our ministerial staff provides inspiring lessons both from the pulpit and in study groups. Church School and Youth Groups give impetus to Christian growth. Neighborhood's wonderful music program includes choral and bell choirs for adults, youth, and children. The Women's Fellowship, Men's Club, Flower Guild, couple's clubs, Singles' Groups are extensions of our Church program. Community friends enjoy a Christmas Pageant presented by the congregation each year - a tradition since 1953. Neighborhood's Yule Parlor Parade is another popular holiday event - since 1956.
With inspiration for those Bible classes of long ago, we continue to grow in our faith and live our simple fourfold covenant: "In the love of truth and in the Spirit of Jesus, we unite for the worship and service of God."
J. J. Haggarty built this mansion in 1927 as his summer residence. This wealthy merchant owned stores and elaborate homes in Los Angeles and New York. His Italian architect designed it in the fashion of villas along the Mediterranean. This building followed the curve of the cliff and had 32 rooms in the original plans. The master bedroom (now the church parlor) featured a bath with sunken Roman tub (now a small kitchen) and walk-in closet/dressing room (now the Associate Minister's office). The Church sanctuary was a large living room and the organ and organ pipes are installed in front of the old fireplace. The rear of the sanctuary was two bedrooms.
Wage for the construction crew was $5.50 a day, however an Italian artisan and two assistants were imported to decorate at $100.00 a day. Their artistry is responsible for the beauty of the murals, ceiling decorations, cast balustrades, carved baronial fireplaces, decorated beams and pillars of the mansion. The cost to build was $750,000 - a staggering sum when measured in pre-depression dollars.
The grounds contained a formal garden, which is our west parking lot, and a green house behind the cottage on the east. This summer place had a reflecting pool, swimming pool, bath house and 30 foot thick sea wall. We can still see a few pilings left from a private pier which jutted out 150 yards into the bay. Full grown olive and palm trees were planted and Roman statues were placed on the grounds to compliment the Italian Renaissance architecture. A waterfall was an attractive feature. A barn and three-car garage was a statement of the transition in transportation.
When the Haggarty business fell upon hard times, the mansion passed through several owners and was finally bought by Harry Wheeler, a mid-west financier who purchased the estate to house his art collection. When he died, his family wanted neither the estate nor his collection and the villa became something of a white elephant on the real estate market in 1949. The asking price then was $250,000 and subsequently was reduced again and again. Executors of the Wheeler estate accepted a bid from the congregation for $60,000 and the Church had a home.
Talents and gifts of church members and friends of the church continue to make this an exceptionally beautiful house of worship.