Monday, April 23, 2007

No. 17 - St Vibiana's Cathedral

St Vibiana's Cathedral

St Vibiana’s Cathedral

1876 – Ezra Kysor and W.J. Mathews
114 East Second Street – map
Declared: May 10, 1963

The Cathedral of Sancta Vibiana, modeled after the architecture of Puerto de San Miguel in Barcelona, was built in the 1870s on land donated by a guy named Amiel Cavalier. Opening on April 9, 1876, it became the home of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and it replaced Iglesia Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles as the city’s main Roman Catholic church. Pope Pius IX named St Vibiana’s for a third century martyr (the martyr St Vibiana - the poor girl was flogged to death). With the help of its 83-foot bell tower, the Spanish-Baroque church instantly became a dominant part of the city’s skyline.

St Vibiana's Cathedral

St Vibiana's in 1885

While the site's cornerstone was put down in 1871, Harris Newmark, in his book, Sixty Years in Southern California, says
... the first corner-stone had been placed, on October 3rd, 1869, on the west side of Main Street between Fifth and Sixth, when it was expected that the Cathedral was to extend to Spring Street. The site, and that oddly enough, was soon pronounced, "too far out of town", and a move was undertaken to a point farther north.
In 1933, a five-story rectory was built on the Second Street side with living quarters, kitchens, dressing areas, and balconies. Pope John Paul II stayed there during his 1987 trip to Los Angeles.

St Vibiana's Cathedral
The former main entrance, on Main Street

St Vibiana's Cathedral
This big pit between me and the church was, until it relocated at the end of 1994, the site of the Union Rescue Mission.

After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, parts of the cathedral were severely damaged. In 1996, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles began demolishing the structure, starting with the bell tower, to make way for a new church. The Los Angeles Conservancy and executive director Linda Dishman, with support from Antonio Villaraigosa, then Assembly Speaker and a former Vibiana altar boy, State Senator Tom Hayden, and State Senator Gil Cedillo, opposed the destruction. A pair of lawsuits halted demolition. However, Cardinal Roger Mahony threatened to move the cathedral out of downtown L.A. if he couldn’t raze and replace old St Vibiana’s.

St Vibiana's Cathedral
A shot of a branch from the city library's Little Tokyo branch, formerly the site of the cathedral's school.

The archdiocese ultimately backed down when, first, it acquired from the city a plot at Temple and Grand for a new church (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels opened in 2002) and, second, developer Tom Gilmore stepped in and bought St Vibiana's for $4.65 million. (More money: the 21st-century cathedral cost around $200 million; the 19th-century church around $80,000.) Read an account of the archdiocese/preservationists to-do here.

After a restoration and seismic retrofitting costing around $8 million, the building was re-opened as an events center, Vibiana Place, with a big wing-ding on November 12, 2005.

St Vibiana's Cathedral
A close-up on a yet-to-be-restored portion

St Vibiana's Cathedral
The 1933 rectory on the Second Street side

As late as last fall, Gilmore's plans for the site included a restaurant in the rectory, the performing arts center in the church, and an adjoining 41-story building with 300 condos.

St Vibiana's Cathedral
The lawn on the corner formed by Second and Main

When I was there, the place was shut up pretty tight, so I didn’t get any pictures of the inside. But if you go to the Vibiana Place website, you’ll see some great interior shots.

8/29/07 Update: Click here for a Los Angeles Times article, with footage, on the restoration of the 3,500-pound cupola.

St Vibiana's Cathedral

Up next: Hyde Park Congregational Church


Jill said...

Very, very cool. As a kid I spent so much time looking up at that bell tower. It's nice to know the history. Thanks, Floyd.

Anonymous said...

Hi I was drawn to St. Vibiana's through Pope John Paul II. I need to ask.. where are the Gates?? I thought they were going to be in your new "Vibiana". I give you this quote "Even though they will form a part of the secular St. Vibiana's center, they must be used to house a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. "They can't have them unless there is at least a painting of the Lady of Guadalupe there," Giles told the Times. "Otherwise, no deal." I've looked at all your pictures and have yet to find one of the Blessed Mother..Please advise..Thanks Catherine Doucette Email:

gc said...

Hooray for the restoration of the bell tower!!! Pope John Paul II blessed my mom here during his visit in the 80s. She still talks about this today.