Blaze erupts from Crenshaw Church (Photo: Joey Pander)
Eye witness reports claim that the Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church at 4939 Crenshaw Blvd. in South Los Angeles became engulfed in flames after the sound of an explosion sounded just shy the 2 am hour on Friday April 26. The fire, which gutted and left only a shell holding charred remains of the once pristine church altar, sanctuary and administrative offices, blazed for almost an hour before the fire department responded and left the church a total loss.
The House of Worship Arson Task Force, made up of local, state and federal authorities, were called in to investigate as well as local fire department arson investigators. Although initial findings seem “suspicious,” at press time no official results have been released. There were no injuries or deaths as a result of the blaze.
“We don’t really know what caused it,” said Shirley Green, the Bethesda Temple’s Administrative Secretary on Friday afternoon, “They called me about 1:30 am [Friday] morning and the flames were just gulfing up at least 30 feet above the church. We lost everything.”
Pastor Ernest D. Alexander, who was in bed when he was alerted to the fire by his grandchildren, who bought the church building 16 years ago from the Lutheran church added, “We will be able to rebuild. We were pretty well insured.” Pastor Alexander gave this message to his congregation during the Sunday services, “Appreciate what God has done for us. And watch what He is going to do for us in the future. Give him thanks, God is grateful. He is good. He has blessed us, and he is going to bless us continually.”
Peter Benesch, Commander of Battalion 18, spoke with the Sentinel in regards to the results of the fire. “Approximately 2 o’clock this morning, we were called here and what we found was we had a significant fire inside the church. ‘First On’ resources found the building well involved with fire. We had to go in and do what we call a ‘defensive mode’ at first, where we use some large streams [of water] to start knocking down the fire. After that, we were able to get inside and go in an ‘offensive posture’ and start getting a handle on the fire, protecting the exposures that are off to the east side of the building. However, unfortunately, there’s significant damage to the inside. We are here today to assist the church and the pastor with removing some of the possessions.”
The church building has been ‘red tagged’ by the Los Angeles Safety inspector and has been deemed unsafe for use. The ruling will result in the initial boarding up of the exterior of the building and then the eventual demolishing of the structure by certified demolitions and waste removal specialist, due to the likelihood of asbestos, lead and other carcinogens and hazardous materials that could be a part of older buildings and exposed because of the fire.
Church officials say that Sunday services will be held in Dulans on Crenshaw Soul Food Restaurant’s banquet hall that is located across the street from the church’s location on 49th and Crenshaw. Greg Dulan, owner of Dulans on Crenshaw, who has had a decade long relationship with the church, and offered the use of his banquet hall that seats 150. When he saw the church in need, he said, “I saw the pastor and members and my heart sank. It was the neighborly thing to do and we have to support one another.”
Councilmember Bernard Parks and Councilmember Eric Garcetti both pledged their support for the Bethesda church at the Sunday services and both gave positive words of encouragement to the Bethesda congregation.
“It was a tragedy in our district,” said Parks, “but out of the tragedy, Dulan’s Soul Food owner Greg Dulan, has given the church a new home until they rebuild.”
Garcetti, who spoke with the Sentinel, said, “No matter what happened, we are going to make sure we get to the bottom of it. If it’s a criminal act, Councilman Parks and myself will be putting together a reward motion, to make sure we get to the bottom of what caused this. Even if it wasn’t a criminal act, we will be here, and the city will make sure we have building inspectors out here and we get this church rebuilt.” Garcetti went on to say, “I got chills when they [the church’s congregation] stood up and they realized that you can take down the walls, but you can’t take down the church.”
“The devastating fire is a loss not just to Leimert Park but to our entire community,” said Los Angeles Controller Wendy Gruel who pledged her support, but was unable to attend the Sunday Services. “Bethesda Temple Church has been an anchor of Leimert Park for more than half a century,” continued Greuel, “My prayers are with Pastor Alexander and the entire congregation. I know that, with the community’s support, Bethesda will come back stronger than ever.”
For more info on the Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church call (323) 299-2591.