Writer David Gibson takes a closer look at the deal to buy the Crystal Cathedral and suggests that it was more than a deal — it was a steal:
Not only did Catholics get a national landmark designed by the renowned architect Philip Johnson, but Bishop Tod D. Brown wasn’t even the highest bidder: Schuller and the board of the proudly Protestant megachurch, opted to take Brown’s $57.5 million offer over a $59 million pitch from Chapman University because the bishop would keep the campus as a place of worship.
“A true miracle!” exulted the diocese’s top lawyer, Tim Busch, when the unexpected deal was announced. The sale will not be final until Dec. 30.
But divine intervention may now be needed to transform this temple of suburban evangelicalism into a Catholic sanctuary that will make the cathedral a real bargain and not a liturgical white elephant.
That won’t be an easy task, given the disparity between traditional Catholic worship requirements and modern Protestant sensibilities. The challenge of redesigning the Crystal Cathedral’s interior was central to the cost-benefit analysis that was driving the Orange diocese’s calculations throughout the process.
While the 2,800-seat Crystal Cathedral was a relative bargain, the diocese does not have much cash on hand. The diocese will need to launch a major fundraising effort that could total $100 million, and would entail the sale of other property in order to cover the $57.5 million price tag, as well as several million more that will be needed for renovations and hefty maintenance costs.
But the opportunity was too good to ignore.
For one thing, the Crystal Cathedral’s price tag was a lot less than it would have cost to build a new cathedral from the ground up. The Diocese of Orange — now the 10th largest in the nation, with 1.2 million Catholic souls — was facing construction costs approaching $200 million on a lot half the size of the Crystal Cathedral’s 31-acre campus.
And for those who may wince at the assertive modernism of the Crystal Cathedral’s glass design, the reality is that any new cathedral would likely have followed a similar style. Just look up the coast to Oakland’s glass-and-steel Cathedral of Christ the Light, which was dedicated in 2008.
Similarly, lingering concerns over the cost and size of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles — nicknamed the “Taj Mahony” after its visionary, retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony — also played into the decision to make the Crystal Cathedral deal work.