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Pasadena Presbyterian Church
An Historical Church and Sanctuary
Freeman Chapel
The Harry and Helen Ehrich Organ

In the year 2010, Pasadena Presbyterian Church (PPC) marked its 135th year.


map.gif (5481 bytes)On March 21, 1875, the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, the city's first church, was organized in a school house on Orange Grove Avenue near California Street. PPC became established on its current site at Madison & Colorado on January 5, 1908, when we dedicated our third sanctuary.

In 1924, radio station KPPC began over 65 years of continuous broadcasting to our homebound members and community. The live broadcast of Sunday morning worship continues today on Charter Cable TV for Pasadena viewers.  PPC's weekly newsletter, THE CLARION, first appeared in 1942. Freeman Chapel, Fellowship/South Halls and Gamble Lounge were built in the 1950s, as were new music rooms and radio facilities. In 1963, Parish House and Kirk House were erected.


Dedicated on June 22, 1952, this lovely, intimate chapel bears the name of Dr. Robert Freeman, who began his 30-year ministry at PPC in 1910. This much-loved, versatile pastor was also a writer of verse.  One of his hymns provided the inspiration for the dramatic windows in Freeman Chapel.  Freeman Chapel is used each Sunday morning for Spanish Language Worship at 10:00, and for special services and times of quiet meditation.   The Chapel seats about 100 people, and is also sometimes used for weddings.


Names on buildings begin to blend with the building after a while, and it becomes no surprise that most of us pass by, or worship in the Robert Freeman Memorial Chapel without ever wondering very strongly who Robert Freeman was.

Dr. Robert Freeman was the senior pastor at PPC from 1910 to 1939, a remarkable tenure no other person has ever matched. During that time he watched both the church and community change, helped both weather the Great Depression, and made the name of PPC known well beyond the borders of Pasadena, or California, or even the United States. A native Scot, his lively preaching style and distinctive brogue left him in high demand all over the southland. Indeed, in tandem with his longtime friends and fellow Scots, assistant pastor James Leishman and organist/choir director James Shearer, he hosted annual Scots Night pageants which were huge draws throughout the Southern California area.

Yet Freeman was important for innovation as well. Under his leadership, PPC hired the first woman Christian education director on the entire west coast. With her help, the first summer camp for girls in the area was established by the church on Balboa Island: Mar Casa. The church services began being broadcast over the radio, and PPC developed its own radio station - still evidenced by the studios now used by cable television in the basement of the Parish House.

The rich connection between PPC and the then-Presbyterian institution Occidental College also bore particular fruit in the Freeman years. Oxy president John Willis Baer became the first elder ever elected moderator of General Assembly, and the close ties led to the student union at the college being named after Freeman. After Freeman’s untimely death in 1940, his wife, Dr. Marjorie Freeman, taught family life courses at Oxy especially aimed at returning servicemen.


ppccrosssm.jpg (13459 bytes) The 1971 earthquake severely damaged PPC's 1908 sanctuary, necessitating its demolition. Our open and inspirational new sanctuary arose in its place. Blending modern materials with traditional motif, architect John Gougeon used steel and concrete to shape the building, incorporating a half Gothic arch throughout the design. The red oak furniture in the chancel was crafted by member Heraclio Rosas, and the women of PPC created the colorful creedal banners.


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PPC's sanctuary was dedicated on January 18, 1976, the crowning event of our Centennial Year, with the eleven great bells from the old belfry pealing joyously from their new 120-foot tower at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Madison Avenue.  The sanctuary is the center of worship and music life for the church, with seating for approximately 800 people,  flexible and attractive front platform space, and excellent acoustics.   The massive contemporary stained glass windows and stunning suspended cross, made possible by a generous gift from Gertrude A. Hezlep, enhance this "Sacred Space" and inspire those who use it.


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(To see technical specifications on the organ, click here)

The Harry and Helen Ehrich Organ at Pasadena Presbyterian Church is one of the largest and finest instruments of its kind in Southern California.  Built by the Ĉolian-Skinner company of Boston, and recently renovated by local organ builder Robert Turner and the Schantz Organ Company of Orville, Ohio, the organ includes more than 6,000 separate pipes arranged in 112 ranks (or "sets") and is an excellent example of the "American Classic" school of organ design.  An American Classic organ design attempts to include sounds suitable for the performance of music from the various historic and national schools of organ compositions in one large, comprehensive instrument.

This organ was built for PPC's 1908 sanctuary and replaced an older instrument built by the Murray Harris firm of Los Angeles.  It was designed in the late 1940's by G. Donald Harrison of the Ĉolian-Skinner Company and then-organist David Craighead.  In 1947 the four-manual console was purchased, but funding for the pipework was preempted by the building of the Parish House and Freeman Chapel.  For almost fifteen years this new console was used to play the old Murray Harris organ.

In 1961 the new organ was finally installed--112 ranks--with some revision of the original stop list by Joseph Whiteford, president of Ĉolian-Skinner, and Robert Prichard, PPC's organist at that time.  The new organ included the large main organ, much as it is now installed, along with a small "echo organ" of fourteen ranks in the rear gallery of the church.  Most of these echo pipes were retained from the old Murray Harris organ, as was the 32-foot Flute Ouverte which is installed in the pedal division of the main organ. The organ was a gift of Della O. Martin, a Pasadena resident who had attended PPC as a child.  Upon reading in the Pasadena Star News that PPC had signed a contract with Ĉolian-Skinner for a new organ, "Miss Della" announced that she wanted to purchase the instrument for the church.  A delighted congregation gratefully received her gift and named the organ in her honor.

The 1971 Sylmar earthquake badly damaged the church's 1908 sanctuary, but the organ was salvaged and stored while the congregation built the present sanctuary.   In the mid-1970's the organ was reinstalled in PPC's current sanctuary by Casavant Freres of Montreal, and an additional 2.5 ranks of new pipes were built to create the striking facade.  The organ currently bears the names of the donors who made this reinstallation possible, Harry and Helen Ehrich. 

Since its completion in 1961, the organ at Pasadena Presbyterian Church has been featured in more than a hundred recitals played by prominent local and internationally known musicians, and on more than 1,000 radio and television broadcasts.  

In 2002-2003 a successful campaign was undertaken to fund the completion of the organ and to do much-needed mechanical restoration and overhaul of parts of the organ that show signs of wear and decay over time. Over 175 individuals made three-year pledges and one-time gifts as part of this effort. Special gifts were given by John and Elizabeth Herrick, whose generosity made possible the reinstallation of the Echo organ pipes in the rear of the sanctuary, and by Herb and Elizabeth Hezlep, whose kind support made possible the addition of  a Trompette-en-chamade stop in the re-installed Echo organ.  Several foundations contributed to the organ endowment fund; a very generous grant from the Ahmanson Foundation brought us to our campaign goal of $350,000.

The pipes for the Echo organ, which were assembled by the Schantz organ company, are now visible at the rear of the balcony.  During the summer of 2003, the releathering of the organ and rebuilding of the console were also completed. The newly rebuilt instrument was formally rededicated in a recital and a special worship service on November 1 and 2, 2003.