Bienville Street Church

Winston Ho 何嶸
University of New Orleans,
Department of History 紐奧良大學歷史學系.

2018 Dec. 12, Wednesday.

CPCNO - 5 - 2525 Bienville Street (1982).jpg

[Photograph of the Sanctuary Building and Education Building at 2525 Bienville Street in 1982.  Photograph from the Chinese Presbyterian Church.]  

As of December of 2018, the former site of the Chinese Presbyterian Church at 2525 Bienville Street is being sold by its current owners, the Life Church, to Mo’s Art Supply, a local art supply chain, with locations on the Northshore and in Baton Rouge. The sale was approved by the New Orleans City Council last week, and an article was published yesterday regarding the sale of the building.

1952 - 2525 Bienville Street - Future Home of CPMNO

[Construction of the Education Building in 1952.  Carol Leong (right) and Hellen Lee (left), older sister of sheriff Harry Lee, appear in this photograph.] 

The Chinese Presbyterian Church was founded as the Chinese Presbyterian Mission by Lena Saunders in 1882, and it is one of the oldest Chinese Christian churches in North America. 2525 Bienville street was the third site of this church, after 215 South Liberty Street in the New Orleans Chinatown, and 223 South Roman Street in Mid-City.


[The Education Building in 1953 (top).  The second photograph (bottom) was taken by Arthur Tong in 1953, who was raised in the Chinese Presbyterian Mission.  The last photograph (right) was taken by the Times-Picayune in 1966, and includes Rev. Dayton Castleman greeting Betty Lee Wan, Pamela Chin-Lai, and Paula Chin-Lai.]   

The Chinese Presbyterians moved to this site with the construction of an Education Building in 1953. The Sanctuary Building, with its signature mid-century modern terracotta screen, and a set of Chinese moon gates, was built in 1963. It is a fusion of both modern Western and traditional Chinese architectural styles. It remained the home of the Chinese Presbyterian Church for over four decades, until they moved to their present location at 2901 West Esplanade in Kenner in 1997.

Bienville and N. Broad Schwegmann Supermarket (Times-Picayune, 1963) - 1[Times-Picayune advertising in 1963 during the construction of the North Broad Schwegmann.] 

The building was designed by one of its members, Edward M.Y. Tsoi (1916 → 2005), an immigrant from China, who was educated as a civil engineer and architect at the University of Michigan. In addition to designing both buildings at the Chinese Presbyterian Church on Bienville Street, he also designed other churches and schools for the Orleans Parish School System. However, Tsoi was best known for designing several Schwegmann supermarkets in the 1960s, including the the North Broad Schwegmann, one block from the Chinese Church. The North Broad Schwegmann was built in 1964, and it is today the North Broad Whole Foods Market.


[The Sanctuary Building in 1963 (left), from the Times-Picayune.  Photographs of the Sanctuary interior and choir loft in 1963 (right), by Authur Tong.  Notice the orange brick walls and stained glass in the slit windows on each side of the Sanctuary, as well as the two-story wall of blue and red stained glass behind the terracotta screen.]   

CPCNO - 5 - Moon Gate (1970s)

[1970s photograph of Walter Langtry, author of the 1982 Centennial Anniversary History of the Chinese Presbyterian Church. This photograph includes a closeup of 2525 Bienville street’s terracotta screen and outer moon gate. The gate is actually a stylized Chinese character for longevity 壽 (shòu, 寿), inscribed in a double cast-iron gate, and originally painted red, an auspicious color in Chinese culture. A second laminate wood moon gate can be found behind this gate, embedded in a two-story wall of blue and red stained glass.

CPCNO-Report - 1958 - Overview - 4

[From the Annual Report of the Chinese Presbyterian Church in 1958.  Records of the Chinese Presbyterian Church, Amistad Reserarch Center at Tulane University.]  

In 1957, the Chinese Presbyterian Mission was elevated to a self-governing church, and Dayton Castleman was the pastor of that church for the next 25 years. As one of the only Chinese Christian churches in the American South until the 1980s, the church became a community center for both Christian and non-Christian Chinese, and other Asian Americans, in the entire Gulf South region. The church assisted families with immigration, naturalization, and language issues. Members of the church evangelized to students at universities in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee. They visited merchant marines from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore at the Port of Orleans. Travelers and students at Tulane and LSU from Japan, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India routinely visited the church on Bienville Street.

CPCNO - 5 - 2525 Bienville Street (2010) - 1[2525 Bienville Street Church after Hurricane Katrina.  Photograph by Winston Ho, 2010].  

It is no overstatement to say that this location is one of the most historically significant landmarks to Chinese American history in the entire American South. I sincerely hope the new owners will preserve the historic character of this building, and consider its history when making decisions about its future.


Baum, Jesse. Mid-City Messenger (2018 Dec. 11).

Finding Aid for the Records of the Chinese Presbyterian Church, 1882-1984. Amistad Research Center at Tulane University. 

Finding Aid for the Records of Tsoi, Edward M.Y. Tulane Southeastern Architectural Archive. 

Life Church, New Orleans, official website. 

Mo’s Art Supply, New Orleans, official website. 

Chinese Presbyterian Church, Kenner, official website. 

National Park Service. National Register of Historic Places Application for the Schwegmann Supermarket on St. Claude Avenue. 2014. Page 7.

Ho, Winston.  “Bienville Street Church.”  Researching Chinese American History in New Orleans.  2018. 

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