It’s Transformation Time: Crystal Cathedral Closed for Major Renovations

It’s Transformation Time: Crystal Cathedral Closed for Major Renovations November 30, 2013

Two years ago, in November 2011, I told the story of the iconic Crystal Cathedral, facing bankruptcy and forced dissolution, and the last-minute decision to accept the bid of the Diocese of Orange, rather than from competing bidder Chapman University.

At the time, I interviewed Tim Busch, corporate counsel for the Diocese of Orange who had helped to broker the deal.   Tim told me that as the deal drew to a close, one member of the Crystal Cathedral’s board told him as the court proceedings drew to an end, “I like the way you guys have handled this, and I’m going to convert to Catholicism.”  A few days later in the courtroom, she walked up to the bishop and repeated that.

I asked Tim whether he had any personal thoughts about the sale, or about the long road that had brought the Diocese of Orange to this point.  He answered easily:  “Highlight that the Holy Spirit was involved, and that He changed hearts.”

It’s really such a good story, with an unlikely ending.  Go back and check it out!

 *     *     *     *     *

One year later—on November 3, 2012—the Diocese opened the doors of the worship space, now renamed Christ Cathedral, for the Magnificat Day of Faith.  It was the first major Catholic prayer service to be held in the building, and it was broadcast nationally.

The day-long get-together of the faithful included liturgical prayer, outstanding presentations by leading Catholic thinkers, magnificent renderings of sacred music, and much more.

 *     *     *     *     *

Now, finally, the Diocese is closing the building for the extensive remodeling which is needed if the space is to be used for Catholic liturgies.

In my original article, I talked about what renovations would be necessary.

Well, of course, Catholic worship requires an altar on which to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In addition, Bishop Brown will be outfitting the church—built in the tradition of the Reformed Church of America—with an ambo, a presidential chair, a tabernacle, candles, and a baptismal font.  The current seating will be replaced with more typical pews (and kneelers).

Only the organ—with 273 rank, five manual pipes—will remain and will be used in worship.  The grand organ incorporates both the Aeolian-Skinner organ built in 1962 for New York’s Avery Fisher Hall, and the Ruffatti organ which had been installed in the church’s earlier sanctuary.

And now the time has come.  The California Catholic Daily reported on November 28 that the edifice would close on December 1:

Beginning Sunday, the newly named Christ Cathedral will be closed for construction as crews launch a $29-million effort to restore the more than 75,000-square-foot space.

The diocese has been working with liturgical consultants and architects to modify the cathedral built in the vision of the Rev. Robert Schuller into one that meets the requirements to serve as the headquarters for Orange County’s Catholic community of more than 1.2 million people.

“The beauty and inspiration evoked by the cathedral grounds and its architecture are only surpassed by the extraordinary communities of faith that now call this campus home,” Bishop Kevin Vann said in a statement.

“The cathedral will be an international center of faith and evangelization, a vessel for the love of God, a beacon of faith, a home for neighbor and traveler, and a sanctuary for the human spirit.”

The bishop announced in September that two architectural firms, Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios, were selected to lead the design process.

One of the first steps in the renovation will be to remove the pipe organ — said to be one of the largest in the world — so it can be shipped to Italy and refurbished in time for the cathedral’s reopening, set for 2016.


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  • Mack

    Spending millions to purchase and redecorate this second-hand vanity will haunt Catholicism for generations.

  • moseynon

    The combox attached to the CalCatholic article has some additional information which might interest readers here.

    …the former St. Caliistus Church (my home parish), which is being leased from the Diocese of Orange. St. Callistus has moved into the Richard Neutra-designed Arboretum on the campus of Christ Cathdreal while the Philip Johnson-designed cathedral undergoes renovation.

    The Hazel Wright Organ was designed by the greatest organ virtuoso of the second half of the twentieth century, Virgil Fox. It was built by the Fratelli Ruffatti firm of Padua, Italy, where it is being shipped for refurbishment (not Spain). The organ incorporates the Aeolian-Skinner pipework that was built for Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) of Lincoln Center for the Performing Ars in New York City, with the Ruffatti organ originally installed in Garden Grove Community Church (now the Arboretum), as well as other components. It is among the five largest church pipe organs in the world with over 16,000 pipes.

    The original church building for St. Callistus parish had been serving as the cathedral for the Diocese of Orange.

    • Simon D

      St. Callistus Parish is not the Cathedral of the Dioese of Orange, it’s simply a parish therein that happens to be about a click south of the erstwhile Crystal Cathedral. The Cathedral church is the Cathedral of the Holy Family, a few miles to the east:,_California).

      • moseynon

        Simon, thank you for that correction. I will try to remember it (my poor, old brain is kind of foggy these days)

  • No Belief Here

    $29 million would have gone a long way to fixing up St. Callistus, AND tending to the needs of the poor/faithful, AND maintaining the cemeteries, AND still had $$$ left over to start a permanent facilities maintenance trust. Not to mention the $55+ million it took just to acquire the property in the first place. How many dioceses would throw away $100+ million for a Protestant property when their own cathedral was in OK shape?

    “…the Diocese of Orange…actually overbid by as much as $30 million.”

    Buying the Crystal (meth) Cathedral was a vain decision by a vain Bishop Brown.
    If Bishop Vann had three brain cells, he would have sold this secular piece of Protestant dung to Chapman University on his first day on the job.

    And the clergy wonders why people leave Catholic parishes by the droves every day?

    • moseynon

      NoBeliefHere, renovating St. Callistus wasn’t a viable option. It was a simple parish church which had been re-purposed to serve as a cathedral However, it became clear that is too small for that purpose. When the diocese of Orange was created, St. Callistus just happened to be the largest church available. Since then, the population of Catholics in the diocese has more than tripled. A much larger building was needed. Purchasing and renovating the Crystal Cathedral was significantly less expensive option than building a cathedral from scratch.

      BTW, you edited the quote you cited, and changed its meaning. Mark Busch, corporation counsel for the Diocese of Orange, did not say that the diocese overbid $30 million for the Crystal Cathedral. He said that Chapman University may have overbid the diocese by $30 million. (For those who don’t remember, a couple years ago Chapman University and the Diocese of Orange both wanted to buy the property and were submitting rival bids.) Here is the original quote, before you edited it:

      Counting the additional rent and long-term occupancy incentives offered by Chapman University, Busch estimated that the Diocese of Orange was actually overbid by as much as $30 million.

      • No Belief Here

        I’ll allow your explanation of the confusing statement. That still means there is about $100 million dollars being flushed down the toilet to remake Schuller’s nightmare into something vaguely Catholic.

        I think $100 million dollars would have allowed St. Callistus to be expanded to the necessary size. Given that it looks like a Methodist church, anything done to Catholicize it would be progress.

        Of course, you think only a NEW building will do. I do not agree.

        I stand by my assessment that this whole project is narcissism by the local magisterium for bragging rights.

    • Guest

      Caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

    • Matthew

      “And the clergy wonders why people leave Catholic parishes by the droves every day?”

      You do realize that the Catholic Church in America, especially in Southern California continues to grow, don’t you?

  • Simon D

    I account the chances of the renovation being beautiful and appropriate as pretty low, but it is California, after all, and one has to suppose that any of the alternatives would have been worse (and more costly, a point which seems to have eluded some commentators).

  • Skee

    I think the money should have been spent to help the poor in this country and the many Parish’s faltering because of the economy.

    • Mumbai

      Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a
      thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein. Jesus therefore said: Let her alone, that she may keep it against the day of my burial. For the poor you have always with you; but me you have not always. –John 12:6-8