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Fire at 100-year-old historic Watts church for second time in less than 2 years (St. John’s UMC)

Last Saturday, June 3, a second fire broke out at St. John’s United Methodist Church in historic Watts (Los Angeles) and in California-Pacific Conference’s West District of The United Methodist Church. Friendly neighbors first reported the fire while the church’s senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Kathey Wilborn, was attending a sister-clergy supporting event in the North District.

“The church has been an open, green neighborhood space for years. Now the time has come for us to place a perimeter fence around the property for security reasons,” said Rev. Wilborn, who has been leading Sunday worship services in the church parking lot, known globally as Watts Oasis Basketball Court. Located across the street from the Simon Rodia State Historic Park with the Watts Towers, a National Historic Landmark, St. John’s UMC is celebrating 100 years of ministry in Watts this year.

The first fire on February 5, 2022, started in front of the church. An investigation found that the fire started with a bush that was consumed and ran through the sanctuary, particularly the altar area, balcony, and bell tower.

The second fire on June 3, 2023, started in the back of the church building, related to an electrical box, and ran through the downstairs restroom, upstairs restroom, and balcony.  The case is still under investigation.

To support donations can be given in the following ways:

  • in person, at the weekly worship service (Sundays, at 10:30 AM PT)
  • via mail to 1715 Santa Ana Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90002
  • via Text-To-Give: (844) 970-1483
  • via Cash App: $stjohnsumcla1715


The Los Angeles Times reported on June 4, 2023:

A fire has scorched a nearly 100-year-old church in Watts for the second time in less than two years, prompting an investigation into the cause of the blaze, authorities said.

Officials said it took 32 firefighters about 20 minutes to put out the flames in the two-story house of worship in the 1700 block of Santa Ana Boulevard. No injuries were reported.

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire at the 2,000-square-foot church, said Brian Humphrey, a spokesperson for LAFD. Such an investigation is standard when a fire occurs at a house of worship, according to fire officials.

“It’s obviously a priority being a house of worship,” Humphrey said. “The only thing that takes greater priority are fatal fires.”

Saturday’s fire occurred as St. John’s was undergoing extensive renovations from another conflagration that damaged it about 16 months ago.

In February 2022, a fire broke out near the church and spread into the sanctuary. Photos taken in the aftermath show blackened walls and singed prayer books.

Worshipers moved services to the parking lot after the fire, where they were still being held as of this weekend.