Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles is the most Lithuanian US city west of Chicago. It has some 20 Lithuanian heritage sites and some 38000 Lithuanians (out of 51000 in California).

Los Angeles Lithuanian parish grounds

The main heart of Lithuanian Los Angeles is St. Casimir Lithuanian parish in Glendale area. Established as a parish in 1941, it is the last Lithuanian parish created in the USA. It is also the only one developed nearly from scratch by the DPs, post-WW2 Lithuanian refugees who fled the Soviet Genocide in 1944 (while the parish has been established by earlier Lithuanian immigrants who moved from the East Coast, it quickly became imbibed with DP spirit).

As such, the Lithuanian parish is not actually dominated by the St. Casimir Lithuanian church itself (built 1951). The rather modest building has a modestly Lithuanian interior, with a traditional Lithuanian woodwork behind its altar and stained-glass windows with Lithuanian inscriptions and the colors of Lithunaian flag. Traditional Lithuanian sun-crosses that merge both Christian and Pagan iconography are both in the interior and also on the church‘s back wall and roof. Yet, St. Casimir Lithuanian church is still a far cry from the massive Lithuanian churches of Midwest or East Coast.

Los Angeles St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Los Angeles St. Casimir Lithuanian church

The land area owned by the parish is, however, much larger (~85 a), and includes many other buildings and memorials. This goes in-line with the DP emphasis on Lithuanian ethnic culture – for them the parish was not simply a place to pray, but also (or arguably even primarilly) a community hub that consisted of a Lithuanian school, halls for Lithuanian secular activities, a meeting place, a location to erect monuments thus creating a piece of Lithuania close-by (of Lithuania that was stolen from the by the Soviet occupation).

Los Angeles St. Casimir Lithuanian church interiior

Los Angeles St. Casimir Lithuanian church interior

The history of this generation of Lithuanian emigrants is represented by the DP monument near the entrance to the church. It consists of three wooden pillars, representing the three different parts of life of the people who developed the Los Angeles Lithuanian parish: „Lithuania“, „Exile“, and „America“. „Lithuania“ is represented by a Medieval soldier with columns of Gediminas symbols. „Exile“ (represented by a traditional Lithuanian depiction of sad Jesus – Rūpintojėlis) means the time they have spent in hiding and then in refugee camps in Western Europe vainly hoping to return to a „liberated Lithuania“. For the DPs that period was from 1944, when Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania and some 10000 Lithuanians successfully fled westwards, to 1948, when the hope was finally lost they were resettled in countries such as USA. For their whole lifes, these poeple considered this to have been an exile, since, had they remained in Lithuania, most of them would have likely been murdered or imprisoned by the Soviets; they didn‘t want to leave Lithuania but effectively ran away from their lifes, spending some years of fear, poverty and dwindling hope first in Nazi Germany and then lands occupied by the Western Powers. „America“ is the final phase of settlement in the USA and it is represented by a person in Lithuanian ethnic clothes looking at American eagle. Every wooden post is crowned by a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross. This monument has been created by artist Arūnas Zvinakavičius in 2008 and donated by Venckus and Giedraitis families.

DP monument in Los Angeles

DP monument in Los Angeles

Among the other memorials of the parish the most strinking is the Bernardas Brazdžionis courtyard, dedicated to the most famous Los Angeles Lithuanian Bernardas Brazdžionis (1907-2002), whose patriotic poetry used to inspire Lithuanians all over the world in the struggle for their country‘s independence and even find its way into the occupied Lithuania itself despite being banned there by the Soviet authorities. The courtyard has a bust of the famous poet as well as his quotations.

On the ground, this poem alluding to Lithuania‘s occupation and independence (both happening in Brazdžionis‘s lifetime) is inscribed „Praėjau, kaip ir tu, žemės bendrakeleivi / Pro daugybę šios žemės stebuklų, / Ir mačiau, kaip dangus temo ir kaip vėl nusiblaivė / Dar žadėdamas žiedą pavasario kuklų“ [I have passed by (just as you did, my co-traveler on this Earth) / Beside the many miracles of the world / And I have seen how the sky darkened and how it became clear again / Promising to give a modest blossom of the spring]. On the wall is the text from arguably the most famous Brazdžionis poem that called Lithuanians to fight for Lithuania: „Šaukiu lietuivį burtis prie lietuvio ir gyvą širdį prie gyvos širdies“ [I call Lithuanian to join a Lithuanian and a living heart to join a living heart]. The courtyard also serves as a kind of „walk of fame“ to all the Lithuanian poets and writers who created beyod Lithuannia; three more names are inscribed there: poet Pranas Lembertas (1897-1967), writer Algirtas Gustaitis (1916-2002) and writer/poet Alė Rūta (1915-2011).

Bernardas Brazdžionis courtyard

Bernardas Brazdžionis courtyard

Other memorials include a Lithuanian traditional cross, a mark showing distance to Kaunas (that‘s because Los Angeles and Kaunas are sister cities), numerous murals depicting Lithuania, typically by Lithuanian artists, and more.

Lithuanian cross of Los Angeles

Lithuanian cross of Los Angeles

Within the parish grounds there is a Lithuanian Hall building where Lithuanian events of Los Angeles would take place. It has two halls, with a more modest basement hall and an impressive grand hall adorned by images of Lithuanian grand dukes, Los Angeles Lithuanian priests and a teacher of the local Lithuanian school. Originally, that building was used as a prespyterian church. In 1948, it was acquired by Lithuanians, thus „setting the Lithuanian foot“ on this lot of land. From then on until the main church was built in 1951, the Lithuanian Hall building has been used as the Lithuannian church; afterwards, it was repurposed for secular activities.

Lithuanian Hall of the parish

Lithuanian Hall of the parish

Nearby there is a Lithuanian school that teaches Lithuanian culture and language on Saturdays (once it used to serve as a general parish school for Lithuanian kids in weekdays as well but now it is rented out as public schooling has generally replaced religious schools in the USA). The school has Lithuanian traditional ornaments and the coat of arms (Vytis) on its facade. Lithuanian Saturday heritage school has been established in 1949, to be joined by kindergarten in 1955 and a primary parish school in 1956, with the current Lithuanian school building erected in 1960.

Even the Pastor‘s house is styled in a unique Lithuanian way, with bas-reliefs colored in the colors of Lithuanian flag.

Tricolor-painted bas-reliefs of the parish pastor's home

Tricolor-painted bas-reliefs of the parish pastor's home

Once a year, the St. Casimir parish yard hosts the largest Lithuanian festival west of Chicago, the Los Angeles Lithuanian days (since 1954), attracting thousands of visitors for a weekend of Lithuanian foods, Lithuanian souvenirs and – arguably most famously – Lithuanian singers and dancers. This festival unites the original DP generation and their children, as well as later (post-1990) Lithuanian immigrants, as well as English-speaking descendents of various Lithuanian-Americans, their non-Lithuanian spouses and even Los Angeles residents of various ancestries and races who simply want to try out the Lithuanian culture that forms a part of the tapestry of Los Angeles diversity.

Los Angeles Lithuanian days

Los Angeles Lithuanian days

Lithuanian-American National Center of Los Angeles

Lithuanian-American National Center some 10 blocks (and a river) north of the church is the second Lithuanian hub in Los Angeles. Typically, the pre-1950s Lithuanian immigrants into the USA were divided into three large groupings: the Christian Democrats who used to center their lifes around the Lithuanian parishes (often the largest groups), the largely atheist or anti-religious Socialdemocrats, and the Tautininkai (sometimes translated as nationalists) who saw ethnicity as more important than religion and detested the internationalizing influence of the Catholic church (despite still being Catholics).

The Lithuanian-American National Home was created by Tautininkai. A major impetus for its creation has been the Los Angeles archdiocese decision of 1959, which, in addition to its status as Lithuanian parish, has expanded its functions to cover non-Lithuanian Catholics who lived in the nearby areas. This change created a fear that the church would be eventually stripped of its Lithuanian character and thus Lithuanians eagerly donated for a separate National Home that would be fully Lithuanian owned.

Lithuanian-American National Center

Lithuanian-American National Center

A building acquired in 1961 has two halls on its second floor, one of them full of Lithuanian symbols and used for that purpose while the second one serving mostly for rent. The first floor is rented out helping the institution (now with some 100 members) to survive (previously, Lithuanian activities used to take place there as well). As the St. Casimir Lithuanian parish has remained mostly Lithuanian, with a Lithuanian pastor, there has not been such an urgent need fot the community to use the Home and most of the activities remained in the parish (thus, the events at the Center are comparatively scarce).

Still, as the St. Casimir Lithuanian parish has more and more non-Lithuanian parishioners (mostly Hispanic and Philippine immigrants) the fear of „losing the parish“ constantly lingers.

Until mid-2000s, the National Center was marked by a large inscription with the name/purpose of the building. Since then, however, only a small plaque near the entrance with a Lithuanian coat of arms declared the building‘s purpose (in order to avoid attracting attention by potentially anti-Lithuanian people of other ethnic and racial groups), as well as an acronym ALNC.

Lithuanian-American National Center entrance plaque

Lithuanian-American National Center entrance plaque

Lithuanian-named buildings in Los Angeles „Little Lithuania“

As is common in the USA, Lithuanian church served as a hub for Lithuanian district: it was never Lithuanian-majority, but most of Los Angeles Lithuanians lived there and the Glendale area around Lithuanian church has more Lithuanian sites than anywhere else in Los Angeles or Western USA for that matter. A plaque „Little Lithuania“, attached to the parish wall in Griffith Park Boulevard, reminds this. In Los Angeles, there are numerous ethnic enclaves marked this way.

Little Lithuania plaque

Little Lithuania plaque

Numerous buildings in the surrounding area have names related to Lithuania as they were developed by Lithuanian developers. One of them is Villa Trakai. It has been developed by a developer who also was a leader of a local chapter of Šauliai, a Lithuanian patriotic paramilitary organization. The Villa Trakai thus also served as a hub of Šauliai until some 2010s.

Villa Trakai

Villa Trakai

Another nearby building with Lithuanian-related name is Amber Crest apartments that also had a Lithuanian developer.

Amber Crest Apartments sign

Amber Crest Apartments sign

Lithuanian heritage in Santa Monica and San Fernando

Another large cluster of Lithuanian-named buildings is in Santa Monica. There, a group of Lithuanian developers have been present since it was still a somewhat forgotten suburb rather than a posh resort. One of them is Albinas Markevičius of Roque and Mark. Lithuanian-named buildings there include „Rūta“ (meaning „Rue“ in Lithuanian language, a symbolic national flower of Lithuania). There is also a Lithuanian coat of arms on a building at rd street between Washington and Idaho Avenues.

California Lithuanian Credit Union also operates in Santa Monica, with some 160 million dollars in its reserves; it has been instrumental in transferring money to Lithuania after its independence, with some 10-20 thousand dollars transferred as donations every day.

Rūta building in Santa Monica

Rūta building in Santa Monica

All this has attracted numerous Lithuanians in the area, making Santa Monica the second-largest Lithuanian hub in the Los Angeles conurbation. That said, besides businesses, this community had not built communal buildings (churches, clubs) or monuments.

Two streets named after Lithuania - Lithuanian Drive and a small Lithuanian Pl - have been named so in the suburb of San Fernando Valley under an initiative of Lithuanian archhitect Rimas Mulokas who lived there.

Lithuanian graves in Los Angeles

Los Angeles area and the entire California has no Lithuanian cemetery. However, a rather major cluster of Lithuanian graves exist in Glendale Forest Lawn Cemetery, one of the prettiest and most important cemeteries of California. On its landscapped hills such celebrities as Michael Jackson, Walt Disney, and Humphrey Bogart have been buried.

The „Lithuanian area“ is located in Triumphant Faith zone. Some third or half burials in some rows there are Lithuanians. While, in-line with cemetery rules safeguarding its architectural appeal, Lithuanians are buried under plaques rather than under traditional wooden crosses or massive gravestones, many of these plaques are uniqelly Lithuanian. They are adorned not only by Lithuanian symbols (such as Columns of Gediminas or Cross of Vytis) but also by epitaphs written by the Los Angeles‘s most famous Lithuanian son, the poet Bernardas Brazdžionis.

Lithuanian graves in Forest Lawn

Lithuanian graves in Forest Lawn

The most famous Lithuanian burial in the cemetery is arguably Jonas Mulokas, the most famous Lithuanian-American architect who almost single-handedly has developed a unique „modern Lithuanian“ style that manifested itself in numerous post-WW2 Lithuanian churches (in Chicago, New York, Custer, St. Louis).

Jonas Mulokas grave with his most famous architectural creations

Jonas Mulokas grave with his most famous architectural creations

Moreover, Riverside National Cemetery in southeastern LA suburbs has a grave of Frank John Lubin (better known in Lithuania by his birth name Pranas Lubinas; 1910-1999). A spectacular basketball player of his era he was the captain of US national team in 1936 Berlin Olympics. Afterwards, he returned to play for his homeland Lithuania and helped it to defend European champion title in Kaunas in 1939 serving both as captain and as coach. Basketball remained Lithuania's national sport ever since and Lubin(as) is considered to be the father of Lithuanian basketball. Due to the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1940), he returned to the USA and served in the Air Force in World War 2, hence he is buried as a veteran. Section 50, Grave 5241.

Pranas Lubinas grave

Pranas Lubinas grave

Al Jolson arguably has the most impressive graves among people born in Lithuania and one of the most impressive in Los Angeles altogether. A Jew who was born in Seredžius, Lithuania, Jolson went on to become one of Hollywwod's top entertainers, known for his blackface roles (at the time in the USA, blackface was not considered controversial). His grave in Hillside Memorial Park cemetery includes a canopy, a small statue of his and a waterfall perpetually going down the cemetery hill. Having been brought to the USA by his parents very young, he did not associate himself with Lithuania and his birthplace is not mentioned on his grave; instead, there is a reference to "Sweet singer of Israel".

Al Jolson grave

Al Jolson grave

Lithuanian scout camp „Rambynas“

Lithuanian scout camp „Rambynas“ is located in Holcomb Valley some 2-3 hours east of Los Angeles by car, over 2000 meters (7000 feet) above sea level. Still, it is intricately vowen into the Lithuanian life and history of Los Angeles.

Lithuanian Scouts of diaspora (mostly Lithuanian-American) are a separate organization from the US scouts and Lithuannian scouts back in Lithuania. In additional to the usual scouting activities, during their two-week long summer camps they put a great emphasis on learning the Lithuanian culture (traditions, songs, etc.). „Rambynas“, like other similar Lithuanian scout camps in America, were established by the Soviet Genocide refugees after World War 2, in this case, in 1952, and their goal was to ensure their children would learn the Lithuanian culture and way of life in an attractive way, also fraternizing with other Lithuanian children and speaking Lithuanian. Right now, however, the camps are accessible to English-speakers as well (who wish to discover their heritage or just have a scout camp with a unique cultural education).

Main building of Rambynas (scouts sleep in tents in other locations)

Main building of Rambynas (scouts sleep in tents in other locations)

The Lithuanian atmosphere in „Rambynas“ is created not solely by the events but also by the buildings and memorials. The key memorial is a traditional Lithuanian cross, dedicated to Romas Kalanta and all fighters for Lithuania‘s freedom. It has been constructed in 1972 after Romas Kalanta self-immolated against the Soviet occupation in Lithuania. Anoter inscription on the foundation of the cross reads „Esu išrautas iš Lietuvos pakelių kuriose amžiais budėjau“ (I was pulled out of the Lithunian roadsides that I have guarded for ages). This represents the fact that Soviets (an atheist regime) demolished many traditional Lithuanian wayside crosses that once dotted nearly every village and road; the „Rambynas“ cross, located in the free world, is thus a symbolic „new life“ of the crosses destroyed in Lithuania itself. Next to ithe cross, Lithuanian and American flags are raised every morning during the scout camps. Under the cross, traditional Lithuanian symbol Columsn of Gediminas has been created out of pebbles.

Sun-cross of Rambynas

Sun-cross of Rambynas

Once you are a scout, you are one for life, and, in „Rambynas“, even after death, as the dead Lithuanian scouts of Los Angeles area are immortalized here in a Vyčiai memorial. In Lithuanian-American scout pageantry, adult scouts are called „Vytis“ (plural – „Vyčiai“), after the Lithuanian coat of arms. Each dead Vytis has a metal post with his name. There is also a stone monument with scouting-related inscriptions, such as „Tėvynė klaus, pareikalaus, / Tavęs, brolyt, reiks atsakyt: / Kodėl gerai jai nedarai - / Ką tu į tai? Ką tu į tai?“ (The Homeland will ask, will request / You, oh brother, and you will have to answer / Why don‘t you do good to her / And what will you reply? What will you reply?).

Memorial for the dead Vyčiai at Rambynas

Memorial for the dead Vyčiai at Rambynas

Rambynas area has numerous Lithuanian inscriptions. The name of the camp itself refers to Rambynas hill near Nemunas river in Lithuania that was important for Lithuanian pagan traditions (read more at True Lithuania article).

Rambynas is also in a unique place geographically and historically, as scouts here build their tents in the holes that have been left by gold diggers who scavenged these areas in the 19th century. There are still some claim marks left, while not far away from the camp a miner hut has been rebuilt. The camp is accessible only by an untarred road and is in a relative willderness. The vegetation is mostly Jeffrey pines and ponderosas.

Some 100-200 scouts participate in the annual camps at „Rambynas“, mostly from Los Angeles but some also coming from other West Coast cities or other Lithuanian scouting regions of Americas. One weekend also hosts guests, such as parents of the scout children, who have a separate camp within Rambynas. The scout camp covers 12 acres (5 ha) in area.

Gold digger hut near Rambynas

Gold digger hut near Rambynas

Other Lithuania-related places in Los Angeles

Los Angeles has numerous minor Lithuania-related sites spread throughout its massive area that have not actually been created by Lithuanians.

Little Tokyo has a memorial for Chiyune Sugihara, a Japanese consul to Lithuania in 1939 has been illegally issuing Japanese visas to numerous Jews from Lithuania and Poland who were thus able to leave the area before it was invaded by Nazi Germany (saving thousands from the Holocaust).

Chiyune Sugihara

Chiyune Sugihara

At least two sites serve as memorials to Los Angeles sister cities that includes Kaunas, Lithuania. In Sister Cities Plaza, a Kaunas city flag permanently waves (among those of other sister cities), while near the Los Angeles Municipality, a post gives distances to every sister city, including Kaunas.

The famous massive tapestries Los Angeles cathedral of Our Lady of Angels show world‘s key religious figures walking towards the altar / God. Among those there are two Lithuanians: blessed Jurgis Matulaitis and St. Casimir.

Los Angeles cathedral tapestries

Los Angeles cathedral tapestries

One of the most famous sites in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, also has Lithuanian details. There are stars for Lithuanian actros Charles Bronson (real name - Karolis Bučinskis) and Ruta Lee - both located in the important spot next to Chinese Theater and surrounded by the stars of some of the most famous Hollywood actors and directors. Furthermore, Al Jolson (whose grave is mentioned above) has as much as three stars dedicated to him (in Hollywood Walk of Fame, separate stars are added for achievements in separate fields: motion pictures, television, radio, recording, live performance; therefore, people whose careers - like Jolson's - spanned several fields, may get several stars). These three people are the only ones in Hollywood Walk of Fame who definitevly considered themselves Lithuanian and participated in Lithuanian activities (Bronson, Lee) or were born in Lithuania (Jolson). There are other persons whose lifes are related to Lithuania "in softer ways" (e.g. having some ancestors from Lithuania) immortalized in the Walk of Fame stars, such as Robert Zemeckis (Lithuanian father), William Shatner (Litvak grandparent), and more.

Los Angeles Hollywwod Walk of Fame

Los Angeles Hollywwod Walk of Fame

Charles Bronson star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Charles Bronson star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame

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Comments (11) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Miela skaityti, kad nors JAV lietuviai vieningi.
    Gyvenau 5 metus Torrance mieste netoli Los Angeles ir kažkol nieko nežinojau apie netoli esančius lietuvaičius. Telaimina Dievas juos visus!!
    Sofija

    • Wow. Geras. As irgi planuoju kraustytis i Torrance rajona po 3 metu, o po to i Brentwood. Pas drauga apsigyvensiu. Reiketu padaryt Lietuviu meet up kazkada. Manau butu linksma.
      Mantas

  2. I have a wide angle photograph of a reunion picnic 9-19-1959 of my family and a great many Lithuanians in California who hailed from from the Roseland West Pullman in Chicago. I don’t know what to do with the picture. The photographer is W.H. Ink- Montrose. Would anyone like this picture for archival purposes? My mother’s maiden name was Kazlauskas.

  3. Is there an email group to keep track of events in LA for Lithuanians?

      • Please note that the Republic of Lithuania now has a very active official Consulate in west Los Angeles. They have a wonderful website full of information. (You can find it by way of a quick internet search). They also now put out a weekly on-line newsletter “Vakarų Vėjai” which provides detailed information about recent local Lithuanian events along with a calendar and preview of upcoming ones.

  4. Gyvenu Arizonoje. Turiu daug lietuviškų knygų. Dauguma detektyvai. Jei kam įdomu, mielai pasidalinčiau.

  5. Hi ladies my name is Adrian George. I would like to correspond with any young lady/woman from Lithuanian who may be fluent in English some Spanish for learning experience. My email is kroq80s@gmail.com I am a Latino male. Very eager and excited to learn


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