Aug 30, 2007

Good news -- kind of -- about St. Vibiana "ex"-Cathedral

For some kind-of good news, read the story (click on this post's title) in today's L.A. Times about yesterday's returning, after 11 years, of the cloud-white cupola of St. Vibiana Cathedral to its rightful place atop the bell tower of that beautiful Italianate "ex"-Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles.

You can even see a four-minute KTLA Channel 5 news video of the 20-foot, 3,500-pound cupola being lifted by crane back to its historic position.

This is only "kind-of" good news, because you notice right away that gone from the cupola is its cross. How symbolic that is of the effects of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles's attack on St. Vibiana back in 1996.

Secular preservationists were the ones to defend St. Vibiana and save her from the Archdiocese's relentless attempts to destroy her.

In 1996, the preservationists had to get a court to issue an emergency restraining order to make the Archdiocese stop its sudden, Saturday morning sneak demolition attempt. Such was its frenzy to obliterate St. Vibiana that the Archdiocese, says the Times, hadn't gotten a demolition permit.

This was a day after the city government had said the Archdiocese needed to "abate" danger that the earthquake-damaged bell tower supposedly posed.

Naturally, repairing the Cathedral would have abated any danger. Yes, that would have cost a lot. But the faithful would have dug deep to save St. Vibiana.

The Archdiocese claimed repairing St. Vibiana would have cost too much. Does that mean it would have cost $200 million (the Armadillo's cost)? Or maybe $773 million (the cost of the clergy sex abuse and cover-up scandals)?

By the time the court's restraining order was served, the Archdiocese had lifted the historic cupola off the tower and dumped it on its side in the parking lot. And, says a preservationist, "They were stripping the interior."

What is with so many members of our hierarchy all over the USA that they rush to demolish historic Catholic churches that are irreplaceable architectural gems filled with artistic treasures and spiritual and historical significance?

In Russia and elsewhere in the ex-Communist-ruled countries of the USSR and the Captive Nations, they are restoring and even re-creating and replicating cathedrals and churches that the Bolsheviks desecrated and destroyed.

America's Catholic hierarchy should follow the example of the church-restorers, not the church-destroyers. The Church needs to grow, not retreat. It can be done!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you are not aware of some the facts surrounding the decision to build a new cathedral rather than retrofit St. Vibiana, as well as some of the details regarding the need to remove the bell tower.

After it became apparent that the structure had suffered significant damage after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, as well as accumulated damage over the years fom other quakes, structural engineer Nabih Youssef (just about the best expert on seismic damage anywhere) determined that to adequately retrofit St. Vibiana's would cost in excess of $21 million dollars. The foundation was rubble; the bricks in the wall were being held together by gravity; and the mortar between the bricks was gone.

St. Vibiana's is, in essence, three structures--the bell tower, the nave of the original cathedral, and the extension of the nave and facade--that bang against each other, the nave "bookended" by the tower and the extension, during seismic activity.

On top of that, Sir Daniel Donohue of the Daniel Murphy Foundation offered a gift of $45 million, but only to build a new cathedral; he said that the foundation would offer no more money towards fixing St. Vibiana's which the foundation had generously supported before.

As a cathedral, St. Vibiana's was found inadequate as far back as 1904 when Pope St. Pius X consented to the construction of a new cathedral in Los Angeles. A new cathedral was once planned for the current site of Immaculate Conception Church on James Woods Blvd. Archbishop Cantwell planned to build a new Gothic cathedral on Wilshire Blvd. under the title of Our Lady of the Angels.

Architectural experts said that there was nothing architecturally or artistically important about St. Vibiana's so replacing it with a new cathedral on the same site was acceptable to them. Of course, the Los Angeles Conservancy wanted to save it because there are so few older buildings in Los Angeles...but why? Earthquakes! (We really owe the Conservancy a "thanks" not for saving the former cathedral but causing the Cardinal to find another and, ultimately, an even better location for the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.)

When an earthquake further destabilized the bell tower of St. Vibiana, the city issued an abatement order--this, at the close of the business day on a Friday afternoon. The plan to dismantle the tower as a means to abate the imminent danger it posed was in keeping with the same procedures used at several churches in the San Fernando Valley where similarly threatening church towers were removed without demolition permits.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Quintero said...

Reverend and Dear Father G,

Thank you very much for relaying the detailed information about St. Vibiana. I very much appreciate your taking the time to do so.

But may I say very respectfully that I think my point still stands?

I'm called away right now, but I will respond more fully to your post as soon as I can.

For one thing, the earlier plans to build a larger cathedral for Los Angeles never came to fruition, so St. Vibiana was the Archdiocese's cathedral. Pope St. Pius X's permission for a new cathedral surely never included demolishing St. Vibiana!

More later. Thank you again for writing, and thank you for being a priest. God bless you very much, and everyone you serve.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Quintero,
You are correct, as far as I know...earlier plans for a new Cathedral entailed building on different sites. What would have happened to St. Vibiana's had either of those cathedral churches been built is certainly open to speculation. Would it have become a mere parish church? Would it have been sold? Demolished? It's all academic.

The permission to build a new Cathedral from Pope St. Pius X was still in effect and the authorization to change the name to Our Lady of the Angels was given by Pope Pius XII to Archbishop Cantwell and it, too, was still in effect when the Archdiocese built the new Cathedral.

Remember that Cardinal Mahony really wanted to build on the same site until the Conservancy kept throwing legal roadblocks in his way. So the Cardinal looked for another site and the county (which desperately needed the money) offered to sell the parking lot at Temple and Grand where the new Cathedral now stands. Selling the old Cathedral and the surrounding properties helped to pay for the new site.

11:53 PM  
Blogger Quintero said...

Reverend and Dear Father G.,

Thank you for writing again. Just a few comments.

The present owner of St. Vibiana seems to be fixing it up for less than the $21 million estimate, although what his planned total spending is I do not know.

And perhaps he thinks his repairs can prevent the banging together you mention.

The opinion among architecture and art experts could not have been unanimous. In any case, why should they have any defining say?

The question is not whether a new cathedral was needed but whether St. Vibiana should be preserved.

A church so dear to the faithful through several generations and so important in the history of Los Angeles should have gotten some consideration from the Archdiocese.

It can't be denied that many bishops around our country have been adamant and in a hurry to close, bulldoze or sell off their venerable churches without any regard for the desires of their flock or for historical preservation.

It also can't be denied that some have stripped these churches without preserving their works of art and even some sacred objects. By the way, they have also thrown out the Catholic libraries of some parishes they have shut down, and of old pastors who have died.

The Archdiocese's haste to get rid of St. Vibiana, before plans for a replacement were even drawn up, strikes many people as unseemly and as having much in common with the church razings elsewhere.

Those are my thought. Thank you again for writing, Father.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Quintero,
I won't argue with you about what other bishops and dioceses may or may not have done with churches they closed, and why. I simply don't have the facts.

But with St. Vibiana's, the facts were very public. There was no money to fix or retrofit St. Vibiana's definitively--at the cost 0f $21 million dollars. (To fix it definitively would have entailed dis-assembly, putting in a new foundation, and resonstructing it.) What Tom Gilmore is doing is far less extensive and far less expensive. I hope it will prove to have been enough in our next sizable earthquake.)

Since saving St. Vibiana's would have entailed rebuilding but without the necessary funds while building a new cathedral would receive some $45million from the Dan Murphy Foundation, as well as a previously announced pledge for $10 million from the Leavey Foundation (that was not enough to do what St. Vibiana's needed), the Cardinal put the question to a large gathering of clerical and lay leaders in the Archdiocese who nearly unanimously (there was one vote in dissent) told the Cardinal to build a new cathedral on the same site.

(The feeling was that the new cathedral should be on the same site to give witness to the Church's commitment to that run down neighborhood and its inhabitants.)

There was no liberal or "modernist" agenda to tear down St. Vibiana's. Rather, its "demise" would have been necessary for a new cathedral to rise in its place on the same land.

From the very beginning, Cardinal Mahony stressed that the artworks and sacred objects from St. Vibiana's would be incorporated into the design of the new cathedral. Indeed, St. Vibiana's sarcophagus, altar, ambo, paschal candlestick, altar panels, and stained glass windows all adorn the crypt chapel and mausoleum in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; the pipe work of its organ has been incorporated into the new Dobson organ in the cathedral proper; and lamps from St. Vibiana's hang from the ceiling of the new cathedral's Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Quintero said...

Reverend and Dear Father G,

Thank you for writing again with more facts about the history of our Cathedral of St. Vibiana.

Lack of money to repair or rebuild St. Vibiana could perhaps have been overcome with an Archdiocesan-wide fundraising drive. That was not tried, so we will never know.

If a Cardinal gets behind a fund-raising cause, that gets results.

If there was no desire to replace St. Vibiana with a "new theology"-type cathedral, how come that is exactly what happened?

When Cardinals or bishops hold a meeting of clergy and lay leaders, there is a pre-arranged agenda and the result is always a foregone conclusion. People know what the Ordinary wants, and they go along with him.

I think a creative and workable solution could have been found that would fund saving St. Vibiana and building a new cathedral.

L.A. does have money.

$200 million was found for the new cathedral. Why couldn't donors have been persuaded to fund both --say, $170 million for the new and $30 million for St. Vibiana?

It is good and consoling that many precious objects from St. Vibiana
have been given a home in the new cathedral. But I and many other Catholics in L.A. think they were just fine where they were and could have stayed there.

Thank you again, Father, for taking the time to explain many things. God bless you very much.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what "Father G" is trying to get across is the fact that St. Vibiana's was deemed inadequate as far back as 1904 and there was no good reason to try to save an inadequate cathedral.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Quintero said...

Dear Anonymous 1:58 p.m.,

Thank you for writing!

My point is that even if St. Vibiana is too small to be a cathedral, that is no reason to demolish it. Its size is just fine for a parish church!

And its historical value to the Catholics and all the people of Los Angeles is another reason to preserve it as a church.

10:36 PM  

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