Skip to comments.Card. Mahony's Other Cathedral: "Saved, But Degraded"<br>The Rescue of St. Vibiana's Cathedral
Posted on 09/06/2002 9:49:18 PM PDT by Dajjal
Saved, but Degraded
The LA Conservancy Recounts the Rescue of St. Vibiana's
By Maggie Garcia
It seemed it would be no problem for Roger Cardinal Mahony to raze St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles in 1995 -- even though the building was such an integral part of Los Angeles's history and architecture. Given the unwavering support the cardinal received from Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (who happened to be the archdiocese's attorney) few people thought that it would be possible to save the historic building. Soon, the historic preservation community in Los Angeles decided that they would not only have to oppose the cardinal, but also the entire downtown establishment who supported the cardinal's quest to raze the cathedral. The cathedral was saved from destruction by a successful reprieve from the courts and is now scheduled to undergo a renovation as a secular space.
During the week of October 31, the National Trust for Historic Preservation held their annual conference in Los Angeles. One of the seminars was entitled, "Saving the Unsaveable: The Fight to Preserve St. Vibiana's Cathedral," where the story of how the cathedral was saved was retold.
The session was moderated by Jack Rubin, a partner with the law firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, who was one of the attorneys that the preservationists called upon when negotiations with the cardinal broke down. Also on the panel was Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the group that led the fight for St. Vibiana's. Joining her was California state senator Tom Hayden, who fought the leadership of his own party to stop the demolition after the cardinal urged lawmakers to create an exemption in state law that would allow him to demolish the building. Tom Gilmore of Gilmore & Associates, who is the developer restoring St. Vibiana's Cathedral for secular use, Kathyrn Howe, who had been the incoming president of the board of the Los Angeles Conservancy, joined the panel as well. Howe conducted several re-use studies for the cathedral.
Knowing that many in the audience did not know the history of St. Vibiana's, Dishman opened the session by giving a brief history of the structure. Howe then described how the Los Angeles Conservancy had become involved in saving the cathedral.
Howe stated that Cardinal Mahony had invited them to meet with him just before Christmas, 1995. At this meeting that Mahony told them that he wanted to raze the cathedral because of anticipated liturgical changes. Concerned that the cardinal was proposing to raze a building that was an integral part of the history of the city, the Conservancy proposed that the building be renovated instead. Howe said that the cardinal told her that the cathedral was "not an appropriate monument to the largest archdiocese in the county," and thus he wanted to raze it. The Conservancy advised Mahony that he would have to follow state law and perform an environmental impact report before he could contemplate razing the building, because St. Vibiana's was listed on the state's list of historic places. In addition, they offered to help the archdiocese find a way to renovate the interior of the building to suit the cardinal's liturgical changes.
Howe said that they "worked very hard the next two months." Dishman added that they "gave a lot but there was a lot less giving on the other side." During the course of the session, it was apparent that the cardinal had no intention of renovating St. Vibiana's but had already made up his mind that he wanted to build a new cathedral, something that the Los Angeles Conservancy did not know at the time.
Dishman said, "we were led to believe that the cardinal was open to these options." After putting on a two-day presentation on how the cathedral could be modified to accommodate his liturgical changes, Dishman said the cardinal told them, "I will not spend one dime on one brick of this cathedral." Dishman added how disappointed they all were after having spent so much time and effort on finding a way of renovating the cathedral in accordance with the cardinal's anticipated liturgical changes.
Moderator Rubin then told the audience that at the end of the two-day presentation, it was apparent that the cardinal would try to demolish the building. He described how in May of 1996, the cardinal had the stained glass windows removed, along with the statues and other artifacts, all the while assuring the Conservancy that he did not intend to demolish the building.
Rubin then recounted how on May 31, the archdiocese's structural engineer sent a letter to the city citing that, because of the recent Northridge earthquake, the cathedral had sustained serious damage and had to be immediately declared an imminent hazard. Rubin told the audience that the archdiocese did this in order to get around state law. "If the building was an imminent hazard under state law," Rubin said, "they could get around complying with the various laws that would otherwise have prevented the immediate demolition of the building ... because it was designated a city historic cultural monument." Rubin continued by saying how that very afternoon, a Los Angeles city building official accompanied the archdiocese's structural engineer to see the cathedral. Rubin said that the inspection lasted about 20 minutes, and the building inspector later issued an abatement order for the bell tower of the cathedral -- "not the entire building."
"At that point, the building and safety [department] would not go along with the notion that the entire building was a hazard," Rubin said. The abatement order decreed that the bell tower was an imminent danger and was to be removed within 72 hours. The order included a stipulation that the archdiocese would have to secure a demolition permit before removing the bell tower.
The archdiocese told the official that they would not demolish the building over the weekend and would bring their demolition plans to the city's building department. Rubin said that over the weekend the Los Angeles Conservancy decided that the only way they could save St. Vibiana's was by suing the cardinal and the archdiocese. Rubin then said that he got an unexpected telephone call later that weekend from the Los Angeles Conservancy saying a demolition crew was on the grounds of the cathedral and a crew had begun to take the bell tower down. Rubin then contacted the department of building and safety to tell them that the cathedral was about to be razed.
A building inspector arrived at the site after the bell tower had been taken off the building and set aside. Rubin then describes the scene at the cathedral: "a wrecking ball had been attached to the crane, it was literally 20 feet away." The building inspector stopped the demolition of the cathedral.
Afterwards Rubin said he went back to his office to draft the lawsuit. Later that day a building official called Rubin saying that the archdiocese wanted them to issue a demolition permit that afternoon. After hearing this, Rubin said he frantically looked for a superior court judge who could issue a temporary restraining order to halt the destruction of the cathedral. After finding a judge and arranging for a three-way phone conversation with the cardinal's lawyers, Judge Diane Wayne issued a temporary restraining order halting the archdiocese from demolishing the building.
Rubin stated that it was apparent during the conference call between the partiers and Judge Wayne that "the city and the archdiocese really didn't know what their defense was at that point with regard to what they were trying to do. Their plan was really to get that building down before anyone could get inside to see what its condition really was." The archdiocese managed to get Judge Wayne thrown off the case in order to get Notre Dame graduate Judge Richard O'Brien to hear the case.
The archdiocese's only defense in court in support of their proposed razing of the cathedral was a report done in 1995 that said that the bell tower, although structurally sound, was at risk for greater damage in the event of another earthquake. The attorneys for the archdiocese then argued that the week before, on May 23, there had been a 3.5 earthquake in Los Angeles and thus the cathedral was in imminent danger. Rubin pointed out that the earthquake had "caused no reported damage in the entire city." After Rubin pointed out the report had been written eight months before the earthquake, the judge rejected the archdiocese's argument.
On June 3, 1996, Cardinal Mahony held a press conference after the restraining order was issued. Press accounts at the time describe the cardinal as being extremely upset at the halting of the demolition. When he gave reporters a tour of the cathedral he insisted that they wear hard hats and sign waivers dismissing the archdiocese from liability before he let them into the press conference. Rubin said that the press were put under incredible pressure by the "harshness of the statements made by the cardinal at the press conference: 'It is ironic that their victory is meaningless. The old cathedral will remain forever closed and it will continue to deteriorate over the years. No one will ever be allowed in there ever again and it will stand as a shameful testament to a small group of obstructionists in the city of Los Angeles."
The city of Los Angeles then came to the cardinal's defense. The city red-tagged the entire cathedral, not just the bell tower. Two days later, the city declared the cathedral a public nuisance. According to Rubin the city was trying to create a perception the cathedral was a "crumbling dilapidated wreck that was ready to fall down and needed to be demolished." Rubin said that the press never reported on the litigation and instead concentrated on "Cardinal Mahony's pithy sound bites."
The session then turned to Tom Hayden who said he had successfully fended off an attempt by three state senators in Sacramento to create legislation that would not only exempt the cathedral from any state requirements before being razed, but would extend this to the entire downtown area. When the bill came to Hayden's natural resources committee, Hayden refused to vote for the bill, causing it to die in committee. Hayden had been put under a lot of pressure from the leadership of the Democratic party who wanted him to support the cardinal's bill. Hayden refused and the bill died.
Subsequently, the cardinal threatened to move the cathedral to the San Fernando Valley if the Conservancy would not drop their lawsuit. Dishman said that this created more pressure for the Conservancy, although she added that she felt this had undermined the cardinal's credibility as to what he really wanted to do.
When the superior court issued the preliminary injunction against the demolition of the cathedral, the archdiocese appealed the decision to the California court of appeal. Rubin told the Mission that the cardinal had several arguments for the appeal, one being that the designation of the building infringed on the archdiocese's free exercise of religion and there were unspecified religious reasons for razing the cathedral. The cardinal lost his appeal and the case was sent back to the trial court.
Pressure was taken off the Conservancy when the city of Los Angeles decided to sell a lot to the cardinal in order to keep the cathedral downtown. At that point, the Conservancy begun to look for someone who would buy the cathedral and find alternative uses for it. That summer, the University of Southern California's school of architecture developed ideas for some alternative uses. In addition, Dishman contacted Tom Gilmore whom she knew from working on other projects in downtown. When she first spoke with Gilmore about buying and restoring St. Vibiana's Catheral, he was hesitant. After convincing Gilmore that St. Vibiana's was a viable site, Gilmore decided to buy the cathedral from the archdiocese.
Gilmore said that the negotiations with the archdiocese were difficult since the cardinal wanted more for the cathedral than it was worth. The archdiocese included the cost of the litigation with the Los Angeles Conservancy. Gilmore said that they finally settled on 4.65 million dollars, which, Gilmore said "was over-market," but he agreed on it because he wanted to save the cathedral. Gilmore said that the archdiocese agreed to hold the note for them for two years. Gilmore said that even after they bought the site, they still had to ask the cardinal's permission before entering the structure.
In a rapid change of events, Gilmore said that the California State University's Performing Arts School decided to relocate from the main campus to downtown. After a series of negotiations, the performing arts center will now occupy the space of the cathedral. Gilmore added that now the city of Los Angeles has decided to open their Little Tokyo library branch in this space. The development is tentatively being called "Vibiana Place," but Gilmore's partner, Robert Jones, said that this may change later.
The archdiocese of Los Angeles did not respond to messages asking for comment on this story.
Contents © 2000 by Jim Holman. All rights reserved.
[Emphases mine --Dajjal]
St. Vibiana's Cathedral
Plans for a Cathedral in Los Angles began as early as 1859. Eventually, the Cathedral on Main and Second Streets was built and dedicated to St. Vibiana in 1876 by Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany of San Francisco, and completed four years and $80,000 later....
The plans announced in January, 1995 were to remain at the historic site of St. Vibiana's Cathedral. The old Cathedral, ravaged by earthquakes over the years, and closed since May, 1995 because of damage sustained during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, was to be torn down, and a new Cathedral Church was to be built on that general site....
The Archdiocese's engineers and contractors estimated that it would cost a minimum of eighteen to twenty million to save the old structure.
That's right -- because Cardinal Mahony refused to spend $18 - 20 million to restore the beautiful old earthquake-damaged cathedral, he instead spent $200 million of Los Angeles parishoners' money to build the "Taj Mahony" and this "Vibiana Place" will become a performing arts center, library, etc.
Old St. Vibiana Cathedral, 1876
Main and 2nd
Hold the holy water
Reader Michael Z. writes he isn't sure whether to laugh or get a headache over this TCR apologia for the Taj Mahony.
Still, even Oceania had to have a re-write department in the Ministry of Truth, for this little piece of anti-INGSOC thinking gets into the article: The writer is disappointed that there are no Holy Water fonts for people to bless themselves with as they enter But no bad thoughts allowed :
"But I've decided to give the Cardinal a pass on this one, for now, because it's obvious that they are still doing a lot of work, so maybe those will be installed later."
I've been directing people to your blog for the LA Times quote that Mahony was taking credit for every single detail of the Cathedral, even the light bulbs on the freight elevator ! But OOPS ! The whole idea of HOLY WATER slipped his mind. I guess the freight elevator chewed up so much of his time, that he hasn't gotten around to the Holy Water yet ...
The whole Holy Water font issue shouldn't trouble us, because, TCR assures us, ROME WILL TAKE CARE OF IT IN GOOD TIME (i.e., as Fr. McCloskey says, "check back in a thousand years" )
There you have it -- The Voice of Orthodox Catholicism at the Dawn of the 21st Century: "So what if there are no Holy Water fonts?"
Instead of taking any action, we are supposed to wait around for Vatican III...
An interesting -- and quite telling -- detail to leave out of a micro-managed $195-million cathedral. So now worshipers entering the church have taken to blessing themselves from the Jacuzzi baptismal font.
A question: To what does one genuflect upon entering the pew when the Blessed Sacrament is over in a corner somewhere?
Each other, one supposes, in the new Church of Me.
9/6/02 3:58 PM
(Someone please post)
This cathedral could have been restored with $18-20 million!
This was written in 12/00. I wonder if any of these were ever located, or did Mahony sell them on eBay.
(And why exactly does a cathedral need a freight elevator?)
Anyone wish to conjecture a guess as to which (if any) liturgical change he was referring to? I do recall reading somewhere that a mad rush by several bishops occurred during that time frame, to "renovate" or "build" cathedrals. Here in Albany, NY, the bishop raised monies to "restore" the cathedral.
From St. Catherine's Review, written by Michael Rose
MILWAUKEE, DETROIT, SAN ANTONIO, New Orleans, Memphis, Charleston, W.Va., Kansas City, Kan., Grand Rapids, Covington, St. Petersburg, Colorado Springs, Lafayette, Ind., Honoluluthese are just some of the U.S. dioceses now renovating their cathedral churches. Others like Houston, Oakland, Laredo, and most notably, Los Angles are in the process of building new cathedrals.
According to Father Carl Last, former head of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, twenty cathedrals in the U.S. are presently being renovated. Fr. Last was appointed in December by Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland as director of the planned renovation for St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Milwaukee. His comments came in a presentation to Cathedral parishioners in June. Milwaukees project appears to be the most drastic of the cathedral renovation projects now underway, although perhaps not as controversial as others such as San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio and Covington, Ky.s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.
According to conceptual plans released by Fr. Last in June, the Milwaukee cathedral, which dates from 1847, will be remodeled to square with what he calls "the latest liturgical norms." According to Milwaukees Catholic Herald, plans include removing the fixed wooden pews and replacing them with chairs that can be reconfigured at the whim of liturgists; relocating the choir loft to the front of the church, placing a baptismal pool near the front entrance of the cathedral, moving the tabernacle away from the centrally located baldachino; expanding the current choir loft to accommodate balcony seating; converting the sacristy into a daily Mass chapel; and creating niches to display "ethnic art representing the diversity of the archdiocesan population."
Plans to move the altar into "the midst of the congregation" are drawing the heaviest criticism. According to the Herald, "The chairs would be arranged in community-building fashion," in accord with current archi-liturgical fads advanced by a small elite corps of liturgical ideologues bent on remaking the Mass and redefining the posture of worship for Catholics in the U.S. Since no architectural drawings have yet been rendered, Fr. Last claims that no budget has yet been established for the project, which is expected to commence in August. A diocesan-wide resistance to the proposed renovations is being led by the St. Gregory VII chapter of Catholics United for the Faith, which has already organized a petition campaign.
One of the more contentious aspects of the Milwaukee project is the hiring of liturgical consultant Father Richard Vosko, a priest of the Diocese of Albany who has been on "special assignment" since 1970 renovating (many say "ruining") Catholic churches throughout the country. Fr. Voskos iconoclasm is matched only by his ubiquity. At present he is also "consulting" on the designs for San Antonios Cathedral; providing the education sessions at Colorados Springs St. Marys Cathedral; and serving as consultant for Cardinal Roger Mahonys new cathedral, nicknamed the "Rog Mahal." He recently completed work on Grand Rapids Cathedral of St. Andrew; and is rumored to be in line for a commission at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester, N.Y. In recent years he has also served as liturgical consultant for the renovations of cathedrals in Nashville and Seattle, as well as dozens of parish churches.
In San Antonio Fr. Vosko is promoting a similar renovation program for the nations oldest cathedral, calling for rearranged seating around an altar that sits in "the midst of the congregation." Standard fad features such as moveable seating and a baptismal pool near the entrance of the church are also part of the program. Last year the Archdiocese announced a $5.7 fundraising affair to "restore" the 262-year-old church. Warnings from laymen about the possibility of radical alterations have been met with considerable irritation by cathedral rector Father David Garcia, who publicly charged his critics in the citys Express News of "a campaign of distortion and misinformation." In a classic posture of denial routinely assumed by those overseeing church renovations, Fr. Garcia has maintained that the historic architecture of San Fernando Cathedral will be preserved and restored. "Were rearranging furniture, not modernizing the Church," he told the Express News.
Edmundo Vargas, a leader of the renovation resistance in San Antonio wonders why a consultant with Fr. Voskos reputation would be hired if plans were simply to "preserve and restore." Vargas organization Defenders of the Magisterium maintains a website (http://www.dotm.org) to keep fellow Catholics educated about renovation myths emanating from the Archdiocese. Contrary to Fr. Garcias claims, architects renderings revealed in February had no kneelers, no statues and no pulpit. Judging from the steady stream of letters to the San Antonio Express-News, many in the community strongly object to proposals to alter the interior of the church. Hispanic Catholics are especially concerned that the cathedrals Spanish heritage will be lost. Defenders of the Magisterium has organized a petition drive objecting not only to the renovation but also to the dioceses use of the historic cathedral for non-religious events such as flamenco dance performances.
In response to critics archdiocesan officials continue with a straight face to maintain that the cathedral is not being "renovated," but will be simply a "return to its former beauty and style." This same claim has been made about every historic church renovation in which Fr. Vosko has been involved. The process he engineers includes invariable appeals to the historical and artistic heritage of the church in question. In Seattle, for instance, the pastor of St. James Cathedral assured all that the "beauty and integrity of the old venerable structure" would be respected. Renovation literature for the 1994 renovation also stated that the project would not "destroy the architectural beauty of the church." Yet with Fr. Vosko in command, thats exactly what happened. In 1995 Catherine Ross of Belleview, Wash. told The Wanderer, "They said they were going to reclaim the historical integrity of the church, but they wrecked the design scheme. We dont have an Italian Renaissance church anymore. Our cathedral looks like a reformation-era Catholic church taken over by Protestants who didnt want any popish artifacts."
But this script is not confined to Fr. Vosko; most other "certified" liturgical consultants use similar techniques and rhetoric with respect to historic church structures. In Covington, Ky., for instance, Bishop Robert Muench and architect Bill Brown continue to claim that their proposed renovation of the Cathedral Basilica will be "consonant with the cathedrals basic architectural design and history," despite the fact that the entire sanctuary is being moved out into the "midst of the congregation," the marble communion rail and ornate hand-carved woodwork is being removed, a baptismal pool is being installed and pews are being rearranged.
Detroits cathedral is being renovated by Latvian native Gunnar Birkerts, a Michigan architect of considerable acclaim. Plans at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral call for a $20 million expansion and overhaul. The expansion includes a glass-and-steel transept that will be added to the north side of the neo-Gothic church. "We want to transform this formidable, dark, gray building into something that is much more inviting to people," Birkerts told the Detroit Free Press. "The shadowy stone arches around the altar will be transformed by curving metal-mesh sheets that will form a multi-layer abstract backdrop for the Mass." Judging the project by such descriptions, many Detroit area Catholics are concerned that the cathedral will be transformed into another one of the pieces of flat modern art that dot the citys forlorn urban landscape.
Why the mad rush?
Curiously, cathedral rectors seem to be discovering en masse that their bishops churches are in need of some urgent repaira leaky roof, an eroding foundation, peeling paint, an outdated mechanical system and so forth. In each case these "urgent" practical repairs have led to a liturgical epiphany. Monsignor Anthony Tocco, the head of the cathedral renovation committee in Detroit, explained to the Free Press that Blessed Sacraments "roof was in awful condition to the point that fixtures were harmed and the walls discolored. The bathrooms are inadequate, the lighting is poor, and we have no good gathering areas." This, he said, precipitated the current $20 million project that the diocese claims it will foot. Similarly, Fr. Last told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "church officials began looking at renovating [St. John Cathedral] only when infrastructure concerns began to crop up." This urgent need to make practical improvements often gives rise to a radical restructuring of the churchs archi-liturgical components, although no linkage logically exists.
Informed Catholic activists, now better acquainted with renovation rhetoric than in years past, are better able to recognize the warning signs of plans to implement a major church overhaul. Activists in Rochester, N.Y., for instance, have seen the writing on the wall for the future of that dioceses Sacred Heart Cathedral. They are acting now to "nip it in the bud" before any of the archi-liturgical plans get underway.
Many have been wondering why, over the past year or so, the church renovation business appears to have mushroomed. It is not so much because the need of repairs has suddenly become urgent as because the renovation environment may soon drastically change. Two important Church documents that may significantly affect church architecture are due out soon. The U.S. bishops are in the midst of preparing a statement on church architecture (tentatively called Domus Dei), to be discussed and possibly voted on at that bishops national meeting in November of 2000. Likewise, the Vatican is preparing to release the third edition of the Roman Missal. Both documents are likely to contradict some of renovation design features highly favored by the archi-liturgical establishment. In fact, last October, church architects, design consultants and quasi-artists gathered in Colorado Springs to discuss ways of getting around the expected directives that may soon be forthcoming. In the mean time, liturgical design consultants are recommending the "Humpty Dumpty" approach: renovate as much as possible at as many churches as possible before the new documents are released. Once millions have been spent to destroy a cathedral, for instance, it will be hard "to put back together again."