A Brief History of St. Vartan
Armenian Apostolic Church, Oakland, CA
In the late 1920’s a group of
Oakland families felt the need to establish an Armenian church in the
vicinity. On Sunday, June 1, 1924, their first church service was
held at the Greek Church in West Oakland with Rev. Fr. Vartan Kasparian
The election of the first Board of Trustees was in
1926 with the founding of the Parish. The Ladies Aid was formed
in 1929. We still hold their documents, minutes, books, and
records in the archives today. A bequest of $500 from Mr. Dikran
Sahakian was specified to be set aside for a church, whereupon Armenag
Panosian hosted a dinner in Eagles Hall and the entire proceeds were
added to the church fund.
It took courage and faith for a few Armenians
during the worst depression in history to buy a church for $5,000 on
the corner of 23rd Avenue and East 17th Street in Oakland. The
sanctuary was renovated to conform to a traditional Armenian design and
St. Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church was consecrated in September 1932
by the Locum Tenens of the Western Diocese, Vartan Vartabed Kasparian,
assisted by Der Bedros Hagopian, the first Parish priest. The
choir was led by Fresno’s K. Prof-Kalfaian. The modest
congregation grew in membership during the 30’s and
40’s. The annual budget was about $2,000 and a church
dinner was 60 cents!
By the early 50’s the need for a larger
campus led to a building fund campaign. The first Annual Bazaar
in February 1952 started the Fund. It was increased considerably
when the treasury realized an initial sum of $9,900 from the estate of
Charles Stone (Garabed Tashjian).
On March 30, 1955 a deposit of $1,000 was placed
for a lot at Spruce Street and McKinley Avenue and it was purchased on
May 25, 1955 for approximately $35,000. The Parish priest, Rev.
Fr. Bedros Kassardjian and the church officials conducted the
groundbreaking on March 4, 1956. The buildings on the lot were a
large home and carriage house from the estate of F. Borax Smith.
The house was razed to allow Phase I construction of the church
building but the carriage house remained and was put to good use.
On April 22, 1956 Bishop Shnork Kaloustian and 16
godfathers stood on the sub-flooring of the new building. The
blessing of the 16 cornerstones took place as each godfather/sponsor
placed a designated vial into a specific cornerstone, each in the name
of one of the 12 Apostles and 4 Holy figures. Archival data in
the cornerstones remains permanently.
The ensuing year was busy with multiple meetings,
shopping trips, fund-raising and building woes. Nevertheless,
April 7, 1957 was the glorious day the Door Opening/Consecration was
celebrated with pomp and ceremony. A long procession filed up and
around two blocks and back, led by the Primate, His Grace Bishop Vartan
Kasparian. Yes, our very first priest of 1929 was destined to
officiate at our first Divine Liturgy once again!
The awe-struck congregation witnessed the Holy
solemn Rites of Consecration which included each and every item of
furnishing up to the crosses on the doors and walls. Prayers of
thanks and Holy Liturgical chants filled the sanctuary. To
conclude the celebration, a grand banquet was held at the Claremont
Hotel in Berkeley.
In September 1959 a new priest, Rev. Fr. Shahe
Altounian assumed his duties. Impetus was given to Phase II of
the construction at a banquet on April 5, 1959. Several
thousands of dollars were raised and the mortgage was burned.
Construction began on October 15, 1959. The trusty carriage house
met its doom. When the Hall/Sunday School building and parking
lot were completed, a banquet “kitchen shower” was held to
commemorate the event. Enough money was raised to completely
cover the wish-list of furnishings and equipment throughout.
In 1985 Rev. Fr. Mesrob Sarafian became St.
Vartan’s Parish Priest. He led the Parish with selfless devotion,
faithful commitment and good-humored patience until he was called home
to the Lord in 2009. Rev. Fr. Hovel Ohanyan, our current priest, was
installed as St. Vartan’s pastor on July 11, 2009.