Dedicated in 1876, St. Vibiana's Catholic Cathedral is one of Los Angeles' last and most important 19th century structures. Designed by architect Ezra Kysor, plans to construct a cathedral for Los Angeles began as early as 1859 using land donated to the Church by Amiel Cavalier. The edifice was completed in 1880 at a cost of approximately $80,000. Pope Pius IX chose the Cathedral's name, selecting St. Vibiana, who was a 3rd century martyr.
Today's Los Angeles Times cover photo and accompanying story about the return of the cupola to the top of former St. Vibiana's Cathedral on Main Street dredges up the sorry (and funny) story of the city's rush 11 years ago to tear the place down.
As reporter Bob Pool notes, the cathedral sustained damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles wanted to demolish it and build a grand new cathedral on the site, restoring lost luster to Main Street. City officials began to envision the street as a civic thoroughfare connecting the old Plaza north of the Hollywood Freeway with City Hall and, south to Second Street, a great public ceremonial plaza fronting the new cathedral.
So church officials started knocking St. Vibiana's down, beginning with the cupola. Quietly. On a Saturday morning, when the courts were closed. But the demolition was illegal, since the cathedral was listed on the city's register of historic-cultural monuments. Listing meant no demolition permit could be issued for six months, to allow preservationists to find a solution that would keep the building intact.
Under pressure from the archdiocese, every member of the City Council except for arts and cultural champion Joel Wachs voted to remove the cathedral from the list. The explanations were uproariously funny. See, the cathedral (built in the centennial year of 1876) was historic when the council first listed it back in the 1960s. But time had gone by, and it had gotten old so it was no longer historic.
The Los Angeles Conservancy successfully challenged the delisting in court, arguing that the move required an environmental impact report. The archdiocese, meanwhile, argued that city preservation law didn't apply to churches under the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion (the current flap over a synagogue in Hancock Park raises similar land-use-versus-First-Amendment issues). In oral argument at the Second District Court of Appeal hearing although not in court papers archdiocese lawyers invoked the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which the Supreme Court later partially invalidated). Archdiocese lawyers and spokesmen also insisted that the church was beyond reproach on questions of art and preservation and should be able to decide for itself whether the 19th-century building was a part of the city's heritage since it was protecting so many priceless works in the Vatican and elsewhere around the world.
The Times editorial page warned that if Cardinal Roger Mahony wasn't allowed to demolish the old cathedral and replace it with a new one on the same site, "there will be little new development left to energize a downtown revitalization."
Yeah, too bad that downtown revitalization never happened.
The preservationists won, the archdiocese built Our Lady of the Angels on Temple Street, and the St. Vibiana's cupola lay on its side in the cathedral courtyard for more than a decade. Until yesterday, as reported by Pool.
Was this cathedral ever consecrated? If it was consecrated, it must always be used as a church.
From the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Consecration differs from mere blessing in this, that it imprints an indelible mark (St. Thomas, II-II:34:3) on the building by reason of which it may never be transferred to common or profane uses.”
Most churches in the United States are not consecrated, but many cathedrals, particularly ones in built in the nineteenth century, are.
The Archdiocese's engineers and contractors estimated that it would cost a minimum of eighteen to twenty million to save the old structure. No one, including the preservationists, would donate the kind of money needed to save the old Cathedral building. Link
The final cost of the new cathedral was $189.7 million. Link
And isn't it beautiful?
Sounds like the fate of all the Catholic churches in California in the years to come.
**The remains of St. Vibiana, which were in the former cathedral, were relocated and entombed in the new cathedral.**
The reason: a theatrical debauch being staged within its walls for inclusion in a demented Adam Sandler movie now in release.