Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Depth - BY HEATHER ADAMS Re­li­gion News Ser­vice

For nearly 30 years, the Rev. Robert Schuller’s Crys­tal Cathe­dral was not only a re­li­gious land­mark, but an ar­chi­tec­tural won­der and an em­bod­i­ment of flush times in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Or­ange County.

Schuller, who be­gan preach­ing to motorists at a drive-in movie the­ater in 1955, cap­tured the ebul­lient pos­i­tiv­ity of mid­cen­tury Amer­ica, and by the 1970s he was one of the coun­try’s top tel­e­van­ge­lists, best-known for his broad­cast, “Hour of Power.” The sym­bol of his suc­cess was Crys­tal Cathe­dral, a 128-foot-tall build­ing de­signed by the cut­ting-edge mon­dernist ar­chi­tect Philip John­son to be the largest glass build­ing in the world.

From the top, you can see Dis­ney­land. In­side seats al­most 3,000. On hol­i­days, ser­vices in­cluded live an­i­mals and ac­ro­batic per­form­ers. It was a phys­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the lim­it­less hopes of the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity of the time.

But the land­scape be­gan to change.

Around the turn of the 21st cen­tury, Schuller’s large fol­low­ing of white evan­gel­i­cals was ag­ing, and the pop­u­la­tion of non­white res­i­dents in Cal­i­for­nia was in­creas­ing. Mem­ber­ship and do­na­tions to Crys­tal Cathe­dral be­gan to de­cline. The cathe­dral filed for bank­ruptcy in 2010.

At the same time, the Ro­man Catholic Church started see­ing an in­crease in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. In 1976, the Dio­cese of Or­ange con­sisted of about 300,000 Catholics. To­day, the num­bers are closer to 1.6 mil­lion, sup­port­ing 62 parishes, 41 schools, three hospi­tals and care cen­ters and a num­ber of agen­cies serv­ing the poor, ac­cord­ing to the Or­ange County Reg­is­ter.

“It’s like, ‘Where are all these peo­ple com­ing from?’ They keep com­ing and com­ing,” said Hank Evers, di­rec­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Dio­cese of Or­ange.

Fit­tingly, then, Crys­tal Cathe­dral is al­most ready to open as a church again – this time as Christ Cathe­dral, seat of the Dio­cese of Or­ange.

“It’s the car­ry­ing on of a legacy that was be­gun be­fore us,” said the Rev. Christo­pher Smith, a priest at Christ Cathe­dral. “And a very im­por­tant sign of Chris­tian unity.”

When Evers joined the Or­ange Catholic Foun­da­tion in fall 2011, his first project was a cap­i­tal cam­paign aimed at rais­ing at least $200 mil­lion to build a re­place­ment for Holy Fam­ily Cathe­dral, an early 1960s par­ish church that was se­lected as the dioce­san seat when the Dio­cese of Or­ange split off from Los An­ge­les in the 1970s.

It was that win­ter that the Crys­tal Cathe­dral cam­pus was fore­closed and bid­ding for the en­tire cam­pus, in­clud­ing 35 acres, seven build­ings and 340,000 square feet of build­ing space, opened up.

“The tim­ing was un­be­liev­able,” Evers said. Un­be­liev­able, but far from sim­ple. “We’re buy­ing a used cathe­dral,” Evers said. “That’s never hap­pened be­fore.”

For one thing, the Dio­cese of Or­ange wasn’t even the high­est bid­der. But at Schuller’s re­quest, the bank­ruptcy judge awarded the Dio­cese of Or­ange the cam­pus for $57.5 mil­lion. Then came the hard part. Crys­tal Cathe­dral needed ma­jor re­pairs and would have to be adapted to serve as a Catholic fa­cil­ity. The new fo­cus of Evers’ cap­i­tal cam­paign was rais­ing money for its trans­for­ma­tion. The fi­nal num­bers were just too high – $25 mil­lion to $30 mil­lion over budget.

The dio­cese brought in Richard Heim, di­vi­sion CEO for Clark Con­struc­tion Group and a lo­cal Catholic. By cut­ting back on con­struc­tion costs on what Heim refers to as “back of the house” fea­tures that few wor­ship­pers would no­tice, the dio­cese was able to save mil­lions of dol­lars. The to­tal cost of ac­quir­ing and adapt­ing the build­ing, at a lit­tle more than $100 mil­lion, came to about half that of build­ing a new cathe­dral.

Some of the changes were small, such as switch­ing from English wal­nut to red oak for the pews and look­ing at a wider range of floor­ing. The en­tire glass fa­cade and roof had to be re­caulked to with­stand an earth­quake.

To trans­form the build­ing into a place for Catholic mass, a sub­stan­tial al­tar area re­placed Schuller’s pul­pit in the mid­dle of the pre­della.

MARK BOSTER Los An­ge­les Times

Rob Neal shows in 2013 how trans­for­ma­tion will change the for­mer Crys­tal Cathe­dral in Gar­den Grove, Calif. The work is ex­pected to be com­pleted in spring 2019.

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