Mt. Hollywood Congregational Church was founded in 1905, and its first meeting place was at the Los Feliz School, just across the street from its present location on New Hampshire Avenue. In 1918, Dr. E. P. Ryland became the minister. He had been expelled from his position in the Methodist Church because of his opposition to American involvement in World War I. Rev. Ryland was a committed pacifist. He supported worker’s rights, labor strikes, and was involved in other civic issues. He started a boys’ club and was on the Los Angeles Parks Commission. He was a mystic, and a man of rare humor, charm, and culture. The church grew to 600 members, and built a sanctuary at the corner of Rodney and Prospect in Los Feliz.
In 1926, the church called Allan Hunter as its pastor, in which role he served until his retirement in 1963. Rev. Hunter shared the passions and concerns of his predecessor. He had spent much time in Asia, promoting peace and social justice in China, Korea, and Japan, before coming to Mt. Hollywood. The church counted many progressive-minded civic leaders among its members, including John Anson Ford, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, after whom Ford Amphitheater is named. The church was one of the first congregations in the city, and indeed in the country, to be racially integrated. Many notable people, friends of Allan Hunter, preached or spoke in Mt. Hollywood in its early days. Among them were Toyohiko Kagawa, the Japanese Christian pacifist and labor activist, Ralph Bunche, the diplomat and first black American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Howard Thurman, the preacher and mystic, Gerald Heard, a philosopher and scholar of eastern religions, Aldous Huxley, an early pioneer of psychedelic experiences, Carey McWilliams, journalist and advocate for farm workers who mentored Cesar Chavez, and Muriel Lester, a renowned British peace and justice activist.
The church has been known from its inception as a center of progressive theology, looking beyond a literalistic approach to scripture and beyond a dogmatic approach to religious tradition. A mystical interpretation of the Bible, and an emphasis on meditation and spiritual disciplines, have been characteristic of Mt. Hollywood Church from the 1920’s to this day. Allan Hunter was a strong advocate of birth control, and a believer in the value of marriage counseling. Allan Hunter was a devotee of Gandhi and was a leader in the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation. He was deeply involved in the movement by Americans to prevent the war with Japan. In 1941, as Japanese- Americans were being interned in concentration camps, Mt. Hollywood “adopted” a nearby Japanese-American congregation, Hollywood Independent Church, protecting its property and the homes of its members during the war. Allan Hunter visited the Manzanar concentration camp often during that time. Hunter spoke before the US House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1943, forthrightly defending the rights of Japanese Americans and the right of interracial marriage.
In 1947, Mt. Hollywood received a box mailed from Japan, containing camphor wood from a burnt tree from the yard of a Methodist church which had been destroyed by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. With a thank-you gift of $100 from the Hollywood Independent Church, Mt. Hollywood arranged to have the camphor wood fashioned into a cross marked "He Is Our Peace". It remains the focus of the church’s worship today.
The church has always been an active presence in the Los Feliz neighborhood. In the 1950’s, part of the new members’ ceremony on Good Friday evening was to walk from the church to the top of Mt. Hollywood – quickly, before the park closed! John Raitt, a famous musician and father of Bonnie Raitt, was a soloist in the choir.
In the 1960’s, the church continued in its activist, pacifist tradition as a hotbed of opposition to nuclear arms and to the American intervention in Vietnam. Mt. Hollywood joined the (then) new United Church of Christ in 1961. It was one of the first UCC churches to declare itself open and affirming toward gay and lesbian people. This attitude of inclusion added LGBTQ people to the already beautiful rainbow of identities and ethnicities represented in our membership from its earliest days.
For a more detailed history of Mt. Hollywood UCC during the Allan Hunter years, these downloadable files contain his biography.