Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church (1914)
2226 Ventura Street
Lawrence K. Cone, Architect
The Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church is located at Ventura and M Streets in downtown Fresno. The church's exterior dimensions are roughly 71' wide x 103' deep x 68' high. It has a basement, a main floor and gallery level totaling 12,250 square feet, with an approximate seating capacity of 660 people. The floor plan resembles the shape of an Armenian crucifix, creating a strong similarity to ancient Armenian churches in Asia Minor. The exterior of this church remains virtually unaltered since its completion in 1914. The function and owner/user also remains unchanged.
The exterior material is predominantly brick masonry, made by a local manufacturer, with cement plastered veneer at the parapets and window sills. The roof material on the two domes is painted galvanized sheet metal. Apparently the architect's original intent was to apply a cement plaster veneer over the entire building. At some point between the working drawing stage and the actual construction, however, it was decided to expose the brick. Front step rails were added for code adherence in 1982.
The classically patterned Beaux-Arts entrance is a prominent American Revival-era feature on this otherwise literal interpretation of Armenian church forms. Simple unpaneled double entry doors are flanked by cement columns. The columns rest on square pedestals that bear on the raised entry landing. The attenuated columns, with Byzantine capitals, carry an arched broken pediment. The doors are surmounted by an arched transom light featuring a glazed oculus. Three-part lunette wood casement windows flank the entrance. The east and west elevations are similar to the front elevation, and are typically relieved by lunette windows and glazed oculi. The rear elevation is comparatively flat and utilitarian, from which the semi-circular apse (with a skylight at its peak) and niches project. Three service chimneys on the rear elevation provide venting for mechanical services in the building.
The interior of Holy Trinity has gone through more change than the exterior. In the early 1930s, the chamber on the west side of the church was converted into a library. With this change, the two panels of double windows between the front porch and the nave were eliminated. The library was converted into an office in 1964. In 1956 the church suffered a small fire in the basement under the altar. After the fire, all exposed oak pews, rails, and columns were painted to match the walls and ceilings. The interior is now uniformly beige in color. A new social hall/kitchen/classroom building adjacent to the church was also built in 1956. In 1964 the original large Sunday school room in the basement was remodeled into eight classrooms, and the large room relocated into the new building. The library, formerly located in the original west chamber, was relocated into one of the eight new basement rooms.
From 1964 to 1982 no renovation or reconstruction was undertaken at the church. Los Angeles artist Kero Antoyan designed and painted murals on the four traingular pendentives in 1982. The following year an electronic pipe organ was installed. The organ speakers were mounted at the original location of the first pipe organ, which was destroyed by the fire in 1956. Architect Robby Antoyan designed two additional speaker cabinets to conform with the architecture, locating them at the top of the arch at the east and west entrances of the chancel.
New pews for the gallery level (balcony) were donated in 1983, replacing the original seating. All pews on the main floor, the stained glass, the painting of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and paintings of St. Sahag and St. Mestrob (founders of the Armenian alphabet in 424 A.D.) located on each side of the altar are original. Crystal wall sconces and ceiling-hung crystal chandeliers are also original. The main altar cabinetry and the smaller cabinets to each side are original to the building. Original marble on the steps and landings at each end of the altar was destroyed in the fire of 1956. Carpet was installed to replace the original marble surface.
Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church was the first church built in the tradition of Armenian church architecture in the United States. It additionally is the first designed by an Armenian architect, Lawrence Karekin Cone (Condrajian). Cone was Fresno's first Armenian architect. Although there are older churches in the United States used for Armenian services, these facilities either were existing church structures not built for Armenians, or built by Armenians with no reference to Armenian church architecture.
On July 9, 1913, the first Armenian church in Fresno was destroyed by fire. The congregation already had been planning to purchase property a few blocks away on M and Ventura Streets in order to build a larger church. After the fire, the construction of a new building became more critical. The Board of Trustees commissioned L. K. Cone to design, draw and supervise the construction of the new church. Ground breaking ceremonies took place on November 1, 1914, when a handful of soil brought from the Monastery of St. Krikor the Illuminator Erzeroum, Armenia, was placed in the foundation along with other holy objects brought from St. James Monastery in Jerusalem. The official dedication took place on November 13, 1914, with Archbishop Mousgeg Seropan of Boston delivering the sermon and dedication speech.
In designing this church, Cone followed very closely the style of old Armenian churches in Armenia and Turkey from the fourth to seventeenth centuries. Armenian church architecture has long been recognized as the first church architecture to reflect a unique style, which was perfected in its various forms after the seventh century A.D. It is believed that this style and the method of construction influenced the later European Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The church's unique dome characterizes this buidling as Armenian more than any other single design feature.
The Holy Trinity Church was located at the center of "Armenian Town," a ten to twelve-block area in downtown Fresno. This area remained predominantly Armenian until the mid-1950s, when many Armenians there became financially and socially successful and moved out.
Adapted from the National Register of Historic Places nomination, originally prepared by Robby Antoyan.