On July 8, Francesco and I began our journey (with the able assistance of Jim Stewart) at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. We were fortunate that baptisms were taking place that day, and Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, the cathedral pastor, graciously invited us to photograph that event as well. All the cathedral baptisms are done by full immersion, and Francesco got some amazing shots of that experience. We are also indebted to the cathedral deacon, Manny Martinez, fsp, who helped arrange our visit.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was dedicated by Cardinal Roger Mahony in 2002. It replaced the former Cathedral of St. Vibiana (designed by Ezra Kysor), which was bult by Bishop Thaddeus Amat and dedicated by Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany of San Francisco in 1876. The new cathedral was the culmination of nearly 100 years of attempts to construct a suitable cathedral for Los Angeles.
St. Vibiana Cathedral in an 1880 photograph
In 1876, the population of Los Angeles was only 9,000, and the cathedral could accommodate 1,000 people. By 1904, it was already apparent that a new cathedral was needed to meet the needs of the increasing population of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles. In that year, Bishop Thomas Conaty petitioned the Holy See for permission to construct a new cathedral and demolish St. Vibiana. Permission was given, and a site was purchased on Ninth Street for the new cathedral, to be named in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Boston architectural firm of Maginnis, Walsh and Sullivan drew up plans for a Spanish Colonial cathedral. The economic depression of 1907, however, put a stop to the project. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was eventually built on this site. Bishop Conaty continued to seek ways to build a new cathedral, with one plan to locate it at the corner of Wilshire and Vermont.
Architect’s sketch of Bishop Conaty’s proposed cathedral for Ninth Street
In 1945, Archbishop John J. Cantwell announced that architects were at work designing a new cathedral for Wilshire Boulevard, to be named Our Lady of the Angels. The architect was to be Philip Hubert Frohman, principal architect of the Washington National Cathedral. This plan was eventually abandoned, and the site was sold to Farmers Insurance, whose national headquarters remains there at Wilshire and Rimpau in the Park Mile District.
Architect’s sketch of Archbishop Cantwell’s proposed cathedral for Wilshire Boulevard
When James Francis McIntyre became Archbishop of Los Angeles in 1948, he decided that building parishes and schools for the booming archdiocese was a more pressing need than the new cathedral. He wrote to all who had contributed to Cantwell’s cathedral fund, requesting permission to redirect their gifts to the vast building program that was necessary. McIntyre then presided over a phenomenal period of growth and building.
St. Vibiana Cathedral continued to serve Los Angeles during this time, undergoing several major renovations until the 1994 Northridge earthquake ended its nearly 120 years of service by rendering it unusable. Rather than undertaking expensive repairs and additional renovations to a cathedral that had already been inadequate to the needs of Los Angeles for several decades, Cardinal Roger Mahony decided to construct a new cathedral, and retained the prominent Spanish architect José Rafael Moneo to design it. Moneo was awarded the Pritzker Prize shortly after being commissioned to design the cathedral. The former cathedral was desanctified and later adapted for use as a performing arts and events venue.
With the construction of the new cathedral, Angelenos have a Mother Church consistent with the name of the city, which was founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (The City of Our Lady of the Angels), a name later shortened to Los Angeles.
Multiple tips of the biretta to the book Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels by Msgr. Francis Weber, archdiocesan archivist.