70 Years Later: A Look Back at the 1949 LA Crusade

By   •   September 24, 2019

Billy Graham's 1949 Los Angeles Crusade began on September 25 and was originally scheduled for three weeks through mid-October. It ended up lasting 57 days and nights through late November. During those eight weeks of meetings, more than 350,000 people attended and over 3,000 made decisions for Christ.
Posters like this one were sent to residents in the Los Angeles area ahead of the Crusade in efforts to draw attendance.
At the time, Billy Graham served as a full-time evangelist for Youth for Christ. This cardboard picture of Cliff Barrows, Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea—along with their signatures—was likely used in publicity for the Los Angeles Crusade. For decades to come, this trio would travel around the world, working as a team and as friends to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A view of the tent where the Los Angeles Crusade was held 70 years ago. This location soon became known as the Canvas Cathedral. The sides of the tent could be raised for better air circulation. Oddly enough, Los Angeles weather was unseasonably cold when the Crusade started, causing concern among the local committee. The group prayed for better weather as a sign from God that the meetings should continue. On October 16, the tent got so warm Mr. Graham asked that the sides be raised. After that, the Crusade was extended another week—the first of many extensions. Mr. Graham's 2018 funeral service was held under a large tent in Charlotte, North Carolina, paying homage to the Canvas Cathedral where his notoriety as an evangelist began. Watch this BGEA TV special on the Canvas Cathedral.
Seating capacity inside the tent was originally 6,000 people, but later expanded to accommodate 7,000. As the Crusade continued, crowds overflowed outside.
In front of the podium Billy Graham preached from was a large Bible display with the Scripture Romans 12:1-2 painted on it.
"I do not believe that any man ... can solve the problems of life without Jesus Christ," Billy Graham preached during one of the services. "There are tremendous marital problems, there are physical problems, there are financial problems, there are problems of sin and habit that cannot be solved outside the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Have you trusted Christ Jesus as Savior?"
News of the Los Angeles meetings spread rapidly across the city—and soon, the nation. In this telegraph from June 10, 1945, William Randolph Hearst encouraged editors of his newspapers nationwide to give favorable coverage to Youth for Christ events. It's been reported that Hearst sent a similar telegram during the 1949 Los Angeles Crusade, prompting editors to give the event front page coverage. Competing newspapers soon followed.
Recalling the Crusade in his autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham said: "Reporters were on hand to cover every meeting, and press accounts were positive. People came to the meetings for all sorts of reasons, not just religious ones. No doubt some were simply curious to see what was going on. Others were skeptical and dropped by just to confirm their prejudices. Many were desperate over some crises in their lives and hoped they might get a last chance to set things right."
Night after night crowds continued to pack the tent as the meetings gained momentum. "The Los Angeles Crusade has humbled and driven me to my knees as never before," Billy Graham said.
“Drained as I was, physically, mentally, and emotionally, I experienced God’s unfailing grace in perpetual spiritual renewal," Billy Graham wrote in Just As I Am. "I wanted the Campaign to close, but I was convinced that God wanted it to continue. All my personal reserves were used up; I had to put my entire dependence on the Lord for the messages to preach and the strength to preach them. It seemed that the weaker my body became, the more powerfully God used my simple words.”
Meetings carried over so long, Billy Graham celebrated his 31st birthday (November 7) in Los Angeles. This newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Examiner shows the 70-pound cake made for Mr. Graham. The cake was donated to the local Union Rescue Mission to feed the less fortunate.
War hero and Olympian Louis Zamperini was one of many well-known figures who came to Christ at the 1949 Los Angeles Crusade. After making his decision, Zamperini talked to a crowd about the horrors he faced at war. "And then I came back and forgot all the promises I had made to God," he said. Listen to Zamperini's remarkable story of redemption.
On November 7, 1983—also Mr. Graham's 65th birthday—he stood before a crowd at the same corner where the 1949 Crusade took place to commemorate the historic event. A plaque is in place to this day near Washington Blvd. and Hill St. in downtown Los Angeles.
Almost half of the January 1950 edition of Youth for Christ magazine was all about the Los Angeles meetings. Included was an article written by Mr. Graham. "People have wanted to praise me for what happened at Los Angeles during eight blessed weeks, which ended Sunday November 20," he wrote. "God deserves ALL the glory!" He went on to credit three things for the success of the campaign: "the prayer of God's people, the power of the Holy Spirit [and] the power of the Word of God." Watch Canvas Cathedral for more on how God moved during the 1949 Los Angeles Crusade.