St. Francis Center

An artist’s rendering depicts a long driveway as a new courtyard and garden for people.

Sometime in the early 1960s, the noted architect Edward Killingsworth designed a building located at 1041 E. Seventh St. It was one of many civic and commercial buildings the Long Beach native would design in the city.

For more than 40 years, Killingsworth, a Wilson High and USC grad, was renowned in the architectural world. He not only established and implemented the masterplan for the Cal State Long Beach campus, but he was a participant in the pioneering Arts & Architecture's Case Study program of the mid-1950s. The program was an experiment in creativity, innovation and affordability. “The Frank House,” located in Naples, was Case Study #25. He also conceived the Opdahl House, built in 1957, just a few blocks away. In fact, Killingsworth designed 22 homes in Long Beach.

In 1985, the St. Francis Center of Long Beach — a group of Secular Franciscans that started 15 years earlier out of a rented store on Fourth Street — purchased that building on Seventh Street for a reduced price in an “as is” condition. Under the direction of Paul Mousel, the center’s director, it continued to carry out its mission of meeting the emergency needs of people for food, housing and clothing.

Mousel died in 2015 and the center began to flounder, as did Killingsworth’s building. The center was in such disrepair — city code violations and crumbling infrastructure — that it was condemned in August 2017. One month later, a new board of directors was formed and now, three years later, a restructured, remodeled St. Francis Center is scheduled to open later this year.

And it is a disciple of Killingsworth’s who is at the forefront of the new design.

“It’s an honor to work on the restoration of this building,” said Michael Bohn, senior principal with the design firm Studio One Eleven.

When Bohn was an architect student, he found out where Killingsworth ate dinner on Thursday nights and he would corner the architect and pepper him with questions, then sit back and absorb the responses.

“It was amazing being able to listen to this rock star of architects in Long Beach,” he said. “I feel like some of his soul runs in my blood.”

Surprisingly, Bohn said that no one — not the city or the owners — knew that the Seventh Street building had been a Killingsworth project. But he said when he took on the task he had an inkling because the building is one story and horizontal in character. Also, the west façade is primarily post and beam construction with expansive infill glass — both characteristics of Killingsworth.

When completed, the renovated center will cover 5,400 square feet, including a new commercial kitchen, offices for employment and family consulting services, meeting spaces, and storage to provide clothing to the homeless. The redesign transforms a long driveway into a new courtyard and garden for people.

In addition to the design work, Studio One Eleven has helped St. Francis in securing building permits and supported fundraising for the organization. But St. Francis needs more financial help.

“To be honest, I just finished a budget,” said Desmond D’Sa, the chief financial officer for St. Francis. “As I speak, we will be needing upward of $300,000 to finish doing what we need to do. We had our renovation costs come in at $1.6 million based on specifications and codes the city placed on us. But after we put in the kitchen equipment, we found that we exhausted the $1.6 million. All the funds we had accumulated over the years were used up, and in reality, we need $400,000 to keep us appropriately funded.”

D’Sa, who has been the center’s CFO since 2017, is originally from India and has seen poverty in its worst forms.

“When you have seen the afflicted in other countries, you want to move as fast as you can to not let it happen here,” he said. “I want to make sure people don’t go hungry and for poor families living on financial margins, I want to make sure we can feed them and clothe them.”

D’Sa’s goal is to have St. Francis not only help people in the area around Seventh Street, but to extend services to people living in north Long Beach as well as anyone dealing with AIDS or HIV or living in hospices. “There are needy people outside of the homeless that we can help,” he said.

The coronavirus will probably impact the way St. Francis operates once it reopens. D’Sa said the center won’t be able to offer seating for people to eat meals, the number of families gathering in the building will be reduced greatly as will its operating hours — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“This has not been a solo effort; making all this happen,” D’Sa said. “I could not have done any of this without our board of directors and the people at Studio One Eleven.”

Even D’Sa has gotten a bit of education on Edward Killingsworth and his Modernism design philosophy.

“I read up on the architect,” he said. “I would have loved to have kept things status quo, but the building was dilapidated; it was falling apart. The outside had such structural damage. We tried to save some, like the subtlety of the skylights.”

And Bohn, the designer, the mentee, feels good being able to resurrect a building his mentor created.

“I feel like I saved something,” Bohn said. “Knowing this building would be saved, I said to myself, ‘What would Ed do?’ In that sense, I should be intimidated, but it’s an honor. At least we are giving it the best chance of being around for the next 60 years.”

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