A Cathedral Grows Up in the City; Designer Juggles Concept, Costs, Critics and Cardinal to Create Los Angeles' New Sacred Space. (Nation)

By Jones, Arthur | National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2002 | Go to article overview

A Cathedral Grows Up in the City; Designer Juggles Concept, Costs, Critics and Cardinal to Create Los Angeles' New Sacred Space. (Nation)


Jones, Arthur, National Catholic Reporter


Fr. Richard Vosko placed his hands on the burgundy marble altar in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and looked out 300 feet to the rear of Los Angeles' new ecclesia mater (mother church).

Then the Albany diocesan priest raised his hands. Slowly he brushed them together -- to rid them of the dust from the thick protective plastic cover blue taped to the 10- by 8-foot marble rectangle that was strewn with schematic drawings, manila folders and satchels.

Five months from now, on Labor Day, in the Sept. 2 opening moments of the dedicatory Mass at the $200 million-and-rising edifice, Cardinal Roger Mahony will place his hands on this same altar, polished and dust free, and gaze "down the football-field long church at 3,000 dignitaries from California, Washington, Rome and beyond. (Six hundred of them will be on chairs brought in for the occasion.)

This day -- stretching away from the altar in all directions -- the church is a jumble of sawn wood, half-tiled floor, curling cables, crates of fixtures, weird lamps dangling 45 feet from above, and workmen clattering their way through the final stages of constructing the earthquake-proof replacement for the earthquake-cracked 19th-century, 500-seat St. Vibiana's four blocks away.

If the cardinal is the man with a new cathedral, Vosko is the U.S. Catholic church's preeminent cathedral man. He is not an architect -- that challenge in Los Angeles went to Spain's Jose Rafael Moneo. Vosko, in a phrase, is a designer of sacred space.

He has 10 U.S. cathedral renovations notched on his Uniball Vision Ultrafine pen, plus Los Angeles.

Vosko's job is to place within Moneo's space -- and there's plenty of it, indoors and out -- $30 million worth of furnishings and art (not all that money has yet been raised). "There's very little in the building that's going to call attention to itself," said the priest-artist. He has a free hand, allowing for the five Cs that revolve around everyone connected with the initial five-year-long project: concepts, cardinal, cost, critics and congregation.

Concepts and the cardinal are intertwined. This is Mahony's cathedral. He's totally hands-on. If it doesn't "work" it's his fault. Costs and critics are another two-some. The local Catholic Worker community has constantly and correctly questioned these enormous outlays in a city known for the sheer mass of its poor and immigrant populations.

In the final analysis, what a cathedral becomes rests in the hands of its varying congregations, the folks who will make the place holy. It may be a decade before anyone can truly gauge how Angelenos have responded to it as a church to make their own.

Vosko has to help make that happen.

Through an adobe portal

The five-and-a-half acre site is bordered to the north by the constant traffic hum (reverberation is a problem) of State Highway 101 -- the Hollywood Freeway, and to the west, south and east by city streets Grand, Temple and Hill respectively. The two-and-a-half acre plaza is laid out and partly planted. It can be reached either through the parking garage, or off Temple through an adobe portal strung with ancient bells from the old San Fernando Mission.

Immediately inside the plaza, there's the Lita Albuquerque-designed welcoming pool and waterfall. From Mahony's selection of seven scriptural sources, Vosko chose the Samaritan woman at the well. "I am the living water" will be inscribed around the fountain in the 42 languages spoken in the archdiocese. The Native Americans' unique contribution is Kumeyaay artist Johnny Bear Contreras' "The Spirit of the Earth," a myth-laden sculpture.

Overall, the church is finished. Its promoters make much of its adobe coloring and shingled effect that provides light-and-shadowed variety to its otherwise plain sun-baked exterior elevations. The cathedral offices, the cardinal's residence and rectory above the parking lot on the eastern edge of the cathedral plaza are darker hues, closer to graham cracker crust-colored. …

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