Skip to comments.High Cost for New Calif. Cathedral (compared to a nuclear reactor)
Posted on 09/04/2007 7:35:21 AM PDT by NYer
(AP) — A maze of wooden planks and glass panes is gradually taking shape among the austere office buildings of downtown Oakland, a structure alternately described as a bee hive, an inverted basket or a nuclear reactor.
Only an inconspicuous sign on a fence offers a clue that it will soon be one of the nation's most ambitious — and expensive — religious sites.
When it's completed in fall of 2008, the $190 million Cathedral of Christ the Light will be the centerpiece of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, which lost its old cathedral to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
More than 1,000 sheets of glass will cloak the Douglas fir skeleton, forming a luminous 12-story dome inspired by the fish shape known as the Vesica Piscis, an ancient symbol of Christianity.
In addition to the 1,300-seat cathedral, the 2 1/2-acre site will house offices, bishop's residence, a conference center and a garden plaza.
The cost estimate was $131 million in 2003, when the design was chosen, but inflation and extra construction costs boosted the price to $190 million.
The project originated during a nationwide building boom among Catholic dioceses around 2000, said Duncan Stroik, an architecture professor at Notre Dame University who specializes in cathedral design.
However, that trend slowed as dioceses became mired in priest sex abuse settlements that have forced some into bankruptcy.
The Oakland diocese took out a loan to cover half its $56.4 million settlement with 56 sex abuse victims in 2005, but the cathedral is being financed by donations — just over $100 million pledged as of June — specifically for the project, separate from the money used to settle those cases, officials said.
Bishop Allen Vigneron, whose diocese serves more than 500,000 parishioners, envisions Christ the Light generating "new energy for us as a church community."
Some say the money would have been better spent on other community-improvement projects, such as new schools or combatting violence in a city that saw a 57 percent spike in homicides last year.
"Should we give to organizations that help people daily or to a facade that to me is embarrassing and a disgrace?" Virginia Everist, a parishioner from Moraga, wrote in a letter to the diocese newspaper.
Vigneron points out that the cathedral funds are separate from the $350 million the diocese spends annually on social services.
Still, the diocese came under fire in January when it announced that the fundraising campaign for a new Catholic high school in Livermore would be temporarily halted so officials could focus on raising money for the cathedral's completion. Parishioner Nancy Morgan of Livermore said parents have been clamoring for a new school for decades.
Vigneron insisted the diocese would move forward with the high school, but it needed to take on one project at a time.
"It's about going about things responsibly," he said.
The cost may seem high until it's compared with other projects, such as museums or sports stadiums, said Richard Kieckhefer, a Northwestern University religion professor who authored "Theology in Stone: Church Architecture from Byzantine to Berkeley." The De Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park carried the same price tag when it opened in 2005, and a new ballpark for the Athletics in Fremont is projected to cost $500 million.
Light is the central focus of the design, intended to bathe visitors in filtered sunshine by day and glowing against an urban backdrop by night.
"This building is about making space out of lightness and air," said the architect, Craig Hartman of San Francisco.
Traditionalists, however, questioned its fidelity to Catholic doctrine. Postings on blogs and Internet discussion forums blast the project as a "monstrosity of modernity" and "iconoclasm gone wild."
It's not the first time a California cathedral has raised eyebrows.
The concrete exterior of the new Our Lady of Angels cathedral in Los Angeles has drawn comparisons to a prison, and St. Mary's in San Francisco earned the nickname "Our Lady of the Maytag" when it opened in 1970 for its resemblance to a washing machine agitator.
Stroik, who favors a traditionalist approach, questioned whether the artistic goals of modernist cathedrals, often designed by architects renowned for their secular work, overshadow the spiritual.
Vigneron said diocese officials favored the 21st-century aesthetic to mark the cathedral's place in time and culture, and show that "we are not an antique or a relic of yesteryear,"
The Rev. Leo Edgerly Jr., who serves on the cathedral advisory board, agreed.
"You can go to Europe and see Gothic cathedrals," he said. "You can come to Oakland and see this."
More than 1,000 sheets of glass will cloak the Douglas fir skeleton,
makes sense to me
Disgusting. Really putrid and awful design.
Compare this to the basilica that was just restored in Baltimore (I know, restoration different from new construction, but still):
As for the sniffs and snorts of disapproval from the iconoclasts, they remind me of the day I visited Mother Angelica's temple. As I went in a group peeked in and then left clucking their disapproval of the rich decoration. I went in and counted the diamonds on the monstrance. LOL
You know, it looks like the compound from the movie, “Logan’s Run.
(The terribly version from the 70’s or 80’s.)
When I first saw them, all I could think was that when they close those parishes (ok, ok, I'm from Boston!), they should get a good price for the churches, since the condo conversions won't be as expensive as with a "real" church. This cathedral obviously doesn't have that advantage. On the other hand, earthquake damage should be a cinch to assess!
Hopefully this will serve to discourage parishoners and priests alike from throwing stones :D
This works out to a cost of $360 per Catholic in the Oakland diocese.
You'd think Oakland would have learned a lesson from the LA Archdiocese (which is shelling out something like three times that amount to pay off the abuse settlement), and held onto the money "for a rainy day".
I don’t particularly like what they’re building, but the price tag to build a cathedral seems quite reasonable.
The restoration in Baltimore that you point out cost about $32 million. That’s just a restoration, and the Baltimore basilica is perhaps half or less the size of what’s being built in Oakland.
OK, this new cathedral beats The Taj Mahoney.
Even if it looks like an exercise in catching-up with some Protestant
edifice in Garden Grove, CA that is seen every Sunday on TV.
I simply pray that it won’t become the favorite target-practice
range for all the disaffected youth (gang members) of Oakland.
You can say that again.
You can say that again.
For me it’s not even about price. Here in the Northeast, many of the nicest churches were built from the pennies of immigrants. So whatever Oakland or Baltimore wants to spend, God bless ‘em.
It’s more the brute ugliness of the thing that bugs me. That thing at $12.98 would have been a waste of money IMHO. :)
Granted, I have never studied architecture. But I am continually amazed at how out of touch some architects are with reality. I grew up my entire life hearing about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Western PA...about how seamlessly it integrated into the environment. I went to see it and...wha????...it stuck out like a sore thumb. All chunky and blocky and painted this strangely Mediterranean color that didn’t fit the Allegheny region one darn bit. This when we got old farmhouses in PA that look like they grew right out of the soil, they are so natural.
And it’s the same with these churches all these modernist guys go ga-ga over nowadays. I hear them wax eloquent about the space, the light, yadda yadda, and I just don’t see nothin’ but ugly.
This smacks of idolatry to me.
Grotesque! I recall a few years back, there was great flurry of activity among those bishops in anticipation of the USCCB issuing a new document “Domus Dei” which would restrict many of these contemporary designs. Mahony and the other ‘visionaries’ scurried to get their plans in place before passage of that document. Guess Oakland fell into that group as well.
From the photos on-line, it’s tough for me to tell precisely how much I might like or dislike the new cathedral in Oakland. I’m not necessarily averse to architectural styles that aren’t more traditional.
I noted the issue of costs, as some folks seem concerned about all the money spent. In that you cited the beautiful restoration of the basilica in Baltimore, I thought I’d note that it, too, was pretty darned expensive - and just for a restoration!
I’ve only seen pictures, but I think that Fallingwater is a pleasant enough structure. I’ve visited a Wright house that’s located currently in northern Virginia. It’s sorta nice. Doesn’t really make me do handstands or anything. Hate to have to live in it. But wouldn’t mind visiting friends living in it.