Luther Eskijian as a young boy
Luther Eskijian as a young boy

Luther Eskijian was born on November 1, 1913, in a small village named Ekiz-Oluk in the mountains of modern-day Syria. He was the youngest son of Reverend Hovhannes and Gulenia Eskijian.

In 1920, four years after his father’s passing, Luther, his brother John, and their mother, Mrs. Gulenia Eskijian, immigrated to the United States. Like thousands before him, as a young boy of 7 years old, Luther crossed the ocean on a third class ticket, with refugee status, under a Nansen passport. He was processed by the U.S. government at Ellis Island and arrived in America, not knowing the language or the culture.

Life in America 

Luther Eskijian as a young man in America
Luther Eskijian as a young man in America

Without funds or resources in America the family struggled to survive. As a young man, he cleaned and repaired rugs. However, through perseverance, faith and hard work, Luther established himself in business and obtained an education as an architect.

Luther had many accomplishments as a young man. While still in Junior College, Luther designed the early Cilicia Armenian Church in Pasadena, California, (without charge), which still stands today. At the age of 24, he designed and built a commercial and apartment building in Pasadena

He had two mines, one tungsten located in San Diego, and the other filled with veins of lead and silver, from one to two inches thick. This mine was located at about 8500-foot elevation near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He started to send mining equipment to the site when WWII started and all non-essential activities were stopped. He had to close both mines. 

Meanwhile, he had two housing developments under design and construction, one in Azusa, California, and the other in Las Vegas, Nevada. The construction called for reinforced masonry. When WWII started, no steel could be used, which stopped the project.

World War II

Luther Eskijian, in uniform, with his wife Anne Hotzakorgian and his mother Mrs. Gulenia Eskijian
Luther Eskijian, in uniform, with his wife Anne Hotzakorgian and his mother Mrs. Gulenia Eskijian

So, before his own personal plans could progress very far, World War II caught up with Luther and he was drafted into the armed forces, serving from October 1942 to January 1946. Prior to being shipped overseas, he married his California fiancée, Anne Hotzakorgian, in November of 1943 at the base chapel of Camp Monroe, North Carolina.

“I started out as a buck private, a sergeant, then warrant officer, then air corps. From the air corps to the intelligence corps and from the intelligence corps to the engineer corps, and was later transferred to General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Paris to the Office of Chief Engineer, European Theater of Operations.” -Luther Eskijian memoirs

Luther Eskijian, in uniform, in Europe during WWII
Luther Eskijian, in uniform, in Europe during WWII

While serving overseas, Luther’s job was to convert large captured buildings into hospitals throughout the war front, serving under General Patton’s Eighth Army from the Rhine River to Berlin.

During his service in Europe, Luther had little personal time, but when he did, he visited cathedrals and unusual buildings, making sketches of scenes of beauty and devastation. He also purchased art objects from antique shops. These collector’s items would become the basis of his extensive collection of antiques for the museum he would establish later in life.

Life After the War 

Returning to the United States after his military service in January of 1946, he met his first child, Carol, who was born while he was serving in France. Luther and Anne resumed their life, and soon after had two other children, Martin and Nancy.

Luther expanded his career as an architect, general contractor, and businessman. He designed and built many smaller institutional buildings, churches, schools and banks. The following points provide a brief summary of his activities during this period of his life:

  • Served in every capacity with his church of 700, as Moderator, Chairman of the Trustees, Chairman of the Building Committee, designer and construction supervisor of one major building and remodelling of another, Sunday school teacher –- he was blessed to be able to teach Sunday school to young teenage boys for nearly ten years;
  • He donated his services as Director and Chairman of the Building Committee, designer and supervisor of construction for four major buildings for the Pasadena Christian School (attendance 600);
  • Member of the Rotary Club of Altadena, with service on most committees; Fifty-five years of perfect attendance to weekly meetings; Best club award in his year as President of the club;
  • Served on the National Board of Directors of the Armenian Missionary Association of America; Western Chairman of all chapters for many years where he organized the missionary committee and raised funds for the AMAA;
  • Served on the Board of Directors of Haigazian College in Beirut, Lebanon, and was instrumental in its founding.
  • Served on the formation Board of Directors of the Armenian American International College; wrote by-laws and secured its charter;
  • Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Armenian Bible College, now the Emmanuel Bible College;
  • Trustee for Ms. Elise Merdinian, and directing her estate into an Armenian evangelical school on her demise;
  • Served as advisor and correspondent for Mr. John Sheen for over 25 years, directing his multi-million dollar estate into philanthropic Christian causes, including the Armenian Missionary Association of America, churches and schools. His relationship with Mr Sheen enabled the building of the Sheen Memorial Chapel at the Ararat Home.
  • Designed and built some dozen small churches, for Armenian as well as Anglo and African-American congregations without charge; Designed a Synagogue in Pasadena, California;
  • Served as advisor to the Ararat Home of Los Angeles in the development of their major community complex, and particularly the design and construction of the Sanctuary (Sheen Memorial Chapel) and Ararat-Eskijian Museum within the complex in Mission Hills, California. He was the man of the year for the Ararat Home. All his services were donated, including the four years required for the design and construction of the Sheen Memorial Chapel and Museum. (More below.)
  • Served on the Board of Directors of the Altadena American Legion;
  • Lecturer on the scientific evidence and artefacts supporting Noah’s Ark;
  • Assisted many people in their design and construction needs when they could not afford the services;
  • Organized and chaired the 50th reunion of his 1932 high school graduation class, with some 450 attending;
  • Served on many community committees and wrote safety features to the newspapers at the beginning of school for over 25 years for the protection of children at the start of school;
  • Served as an Arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association for construction arbitration. The panels consisted of three members including one layperson, one attorney and one technical professional. Mr Eskijian was the technical professional.
  • One of the founders of the Armenian Numismatic Society.

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Luther also started a corrosion engineering company called Specialties Engineering Corporation (Founder and President). The corporation specialized in circulating water systems. Luther wrote about 100 technical papers on the subject, with about a dozen inventions and patents in this industry. To assist in the business of that company he developed over one dozen patents. Luther continued to patent and develop inventions till 2006 at the age of 92.

Mr Eskijian’s biography appears in the Congressional Record of October 19, 1993. Sketches of the World War II scenes and outstanding churches, many of which have been put on the yearly Christmas cards of Luther and Anne Eskijian.

Building The Museum 

In retirement, Luther spent many years in the planning and construction of an outstanding edifice of ancient Armenian architecture, a The Sheen Chapel, and Museum, for the Ararat Home of Los Angeles. The sanctuary is most unusual in that it uses modern materials, but incorporates ancient designs, with beamed ceilings, a central cupola with an ancient Armenian gold cross on top, stained glass windows of Biblical scenes, natural split face blocks and marble altar. It is similar in design to ancient Armenian churches over a thousand years old. His work was featured in Masonry Magazine, and became a study for college students. 

The lower floor of the sanctuary contains the Ararat-Eskijian Museum, which houses many historical Armenian artifacts from before the time of Christ, along with European and Middle Eastern artifacts, handcrafts of the Armenian people, art and sculpture, including an outstanding sculpture outside the Museum conceived by Luther called “Mother Armenia Arising out of the Ashes,” dedicated to both those who survived and perished in the Armenian Genocide of 1915.