“A true miracle”: why the Crystal Cathedral deal was such a bargain

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.

Read the rest.

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23 responses to ““A true miracle”: why the Crystal Cathedral deal was such a bargain”

  1. I would hope that the Diocese of Orange would consider the services of architect, Duncan G. Stroik. His architectural firm has a great history of taking spaces that have functioned as minimalist Catholic sanctuaries and renovating them into beautiful, more classically Christian oriented interiors.

    Here are a few examples:


    Heaven help the Latin Catholic faithful of Orange if they get another “Christ the Friendly Ghost” in this sanctuary. For the price tag and the publicity, I am very hopeful that the Diocese sees this as an opportunity to witness to the Church’s rich liturgical heritage, which could very well exist inside the “Crystal Cathedral.”

  2. I don’t think it would be certain that a new church would be of a similar modern style, possible yes, but let me direct you to Father Dwight Longenecker’s planned church in North Carolina, very traditional!

  3. There’s a Windex salesman somewhere in the Diocese of Orange who is hoping for another crack at this account…

  4. Our state has three monstrosities of modern architecture: San Francisco’s St. Mary of the Assumption (least offensive), LA’s Our Lady of the Angels (though the crypt is gorgeous and contains much from the old cathedral) and Oakland’s Christ our Light (uggh-el-ee). But the not-modern-or-recently built Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is our capitol, Sacramento, is gorgeous. Check it out at http://cathedralsacramento.org/tour(2mb).mov

    I would think that the Glass Cathedral could become something very beautiful if the right persons are behind its interior renewal. It would also have a major impact on introducing an aspect of Catholicism to others because it is in the relative vicinity of Disneyland and so I would imagine it would attract a vast number of tourists.

  5. For the purchase price of that sci-fi nightmare, they could have provided just shy of 3,000 living wage jobs in Orange County (which stands at 8.5% unemployment). Good thing Jesus wasn’t around today. He’d have just wasted that money on poor people. Augustus Caesar, on the other hand, would have found perfect sense in spending $57.5 million on a silver palace in a palm grove.

  6. Kenneth,

    To follow your logic, then any money not spent on the poor is money wasted. Church ministries such as education, social outreach, and yes, worship, all require buildings that are never inexpensive. There is also something to be said for the fact the any renovation of the Crystal Cathedral will certainly require the employment of a number of workers, geared toward the lofty tasks of renovating a structure where God’s people gather and worship the Almighty in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When the woman poured the aromatic nard on Jesus, Judas protested that the money would have been better used for the poor. Yes, Judas was a thief, but in any case it was Christ himself who defended the worthiness of her act of love. One would be hard pressed to argue that, in constructing buildings, the Church has loss a sense of responsibility for the poor. One need look no further than the network of Catholic Charities operating in every diocese in the U.S.

  7. K is right. As it says in John 22, “And lo when they did crucify him unto the cross, a cry went up from those breft of work following the collapse of the Galilean Renewal District ‘Jobs-From-Jesus’ project.” It seems we never learn.

  8. I second. The outside seems okay (having lived around there for many years, it is a landmark) but, man, the inside. What a huge challenge it would be for DS.

  9. No organization survives without some overhead, but there comes a point when it becomes a grotesque misplacement of priorities. I don’t know exactly where that point is, but $57.5 million for a building like that in these times is well over that line. Even with some imaginative thinking, I see no way whatsoever that the example of Jesus’ life in the New Testament suggests that that kind of ostentatious expenditure is ok, let alone positive.

    If Jesus had really understood humanity’s obligation to the downtrodden as noblesse oblige rather than true solidarity, he would have been born a Roman Senator or even Emperor, wouldn’t he? If the inspiration of grandiose architecture was really the road to salvation, why on Earth did he waste his time mucking about with street-level ministry with apostles who themselves were blue collar stiffs and ultimately homeless bums themselves? As the Son of God, He could have raised a palace that would have made Caesar’s place look like a shotgun shack. He could have made Octavian the butler or the pool boy.

    Buildings like this are built as monuments to imperial power and wealth. They have no other purpose. Pretending that it serves some noble greater good is a self-serving lie. The Roman Emperors too liked to pretend that their giant monuments attested to the glory of Rome or the gods, not themselves.

  10. I agree that the location is great, and it’s a good price for the land. But that building, uggllllly, and not fit for the Holy Mass and Eucharist! They should buldoze it down, start over and rebuild a real cathedral, one that will be seen from the major freeways of OC, even sell off some of the smaller buildings if they have to to afford a real church.

  11. p.s.

    Holy Rosary in Little Italy, San Diego, the church on the California University Campus in San Diego, and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Montecito (Santa Barbara) are three of the most beautiful churches in America, all in S CA. I suggest the decision makers visit each or all of those churches for a bit of inspiration and trancending beauty.

  12. I think it’s ugly, a waste of money. A Gucci bag is a bargain compared to a Chanel bag, but who needs it. People get wrapped up in making “deals”. I see it all the time. This is how bad deals get made. I feel sorry for the diocese.

  13. I second your opinion of the cathedral in Sacramento, Diakonos. The first time I entered it, about three years ago, I gasped.

  14. Cool!
    It reminds me of a mini Vatican, and I love Father Louie! I too have many good family memories from HR.

  15. Kenneth,
    The Churhc’s worship spaces are built for the glory of God. Every Cathedral ever built has employed skilled craftsman and artisans who’s work continue to inspire the worship of God long after they are gone.
    The very constuction or purchase as of this building is to the praise and glory of God. By having such building, they also continue to bring in the faithful, who hear the word and give to the care of the poor and those in need. This will bring in mulipules of the cost of the the building , allowing the church to continue Christ mission on earth.

  16. I think the building is very stricking and beautiful. It is also an Architctural Landmark and an Engineering marvel. I look forward to see how the interior can be remodeled for Catholic worship.

  17. So again, it’s kind of funny that Jesus himself didn’t buy into this logic, if it was that self-evident. As the only being who apparently ever completely understood both humanity and God, you’d think he’d have seen the connection between phat real estate and the Glory of God.

    You’d think he would have acted on that, or at least said something in support of it, or at least included a name architect among the apostles. He is on record in a double handful of places in the Gospels as speaking very directly to the issues of wealth and it’s accumulation. He had absolutely nothing positive to say about it. The record is replete with directives to “sell all you have and give it to the poor.” He was approached a few times by rich guys who liked the feel of his teachings but wanted to still live as rich guys.

    Nowhere did Jesus say “build me a fly temple to help focus on the glory of God and thereby serve the poor.” It’s clear the rich guys who approached him were angling for an answer like that, and he never took the bait. Not only didn’t he commission or build any great cathedrals, He didn’t even bother with permanent digs. Most of His notable public appearances were outside. Even the Last Supper, the very foundation of the Mass itself, was held in digs which were quite likely no fancier than your average family compound in the West Bank today.

    So we’re back to the question of why such a disconnect between the example of Jesus and obsession of the institutional church with displays of power and wealth. We can suppose Jesus just didn’t grasp the power of architecture to inspire, but that seems improbably being that he was the son of the guy who we’re told designed the universe. Another possibility is that the church simply doesn’t have enough faith in the juice of Christ’s message to inspire on its own without glitz. A third possibility, and the most plausible, is that men are simply looking to justify the monuments to power and themselves which they build to glorify themselves, not God.

  18. Kenneth,
    Your argument falls very flat considering the largest provider for the poor and those in need is the Catholic Church. Your suppositions are in great error. Perhaps you just don’t like the Church. Most discussions like this come down top that. I’m certain that if you were to look at the Diocese of Orange county or any other across the county, you will find vast resources being spent to do the work of the Lord.
    Christ comments about the wealthy, was not that he was against it, he was against those of wealth who did not use the great blessings that God had given them to take care of those in need. He was against greed .

  19. Amazing the anachronisms that abound among those who try to read over 21 centuries to tell us WWJD or WWJSay. He chose to come among us in a Middle Eastern climata. Imagine 5000 people sitting a a hill in Norway or Scotland or Alaska listening to Him speak when they were also hungry and shivering with cold. He had absolutely no idea 1.5 milllion people in SF or NY or Boston or Galveston-Houston would need a building for worship in 2011. European Cathedrals and Government buildings often had the same architectural style. Who knows what pride or “Edifice” Complex drove the Popes to give us St Peter’s and the archbishop of Chartres or the vsionaries for other magnificant structures and who really cares? Today’s Popes and archbishops and clergy and concerned laity care for nthe poor and vulnerable and ask their Governments not to start wars which cost thousands of lives on all sides and billions of dollars on them and on weapons and nuclear subs. and aicraft carriers when a fraction of the same wast could feed and clothe and give decent health care and good roads, trains to the same world they have now divided into several “US versus THEM” sub-sections of Humanity along every sociological line and worsened by every crissis at home and overseas. y a Judas was the first cleric to object to Jesus’ hair being washed by a sinner instead of giving the cash to the poor and he took more cash layter to sell Jesus out. Pick on the real target Gentle People please.

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