How a Drive-In Megachurch Became a Catholic Cathedral

by Anthony Paletta

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Work on the complex began soon after its acquisition. Rob Neal, an Orange County real-estate developer, served as head of renovations and chief operating officer on the project. “I did it as a volunteer, and I thought, ‘Well, how hard can it be?” he said. “I was wrong.” The years-long process entailed more than 100 site visits. Neal didn’t want any interim renovations, or to cut corners—these “had to be best-in-class renovations befitting the majestic architecture.”

The first project was the Neutra Arboretum. Jim Wirick, an architect with the firm LPA, supervised. It was, he told CityLab, “a fight with disaster from moment one,” because the structure was not air-conditioned.

Lpa Christ Cathedral Arboretum

“It was basically a hotbox … that’s why Schuller went to Hawaii every summer to write and made his son preach,” Wirick noted. He had two options. “We could put big units on the roof, or chunk out four feet of soil, make a concrete bathtub, and put the air [conditioning] underneath.” He argued strongly for the second option, but Neal opted for the cheaper roof units.

Wirick recalled: “I said, ‘We can’t do it.’ We’d get shamed in the architecture community if we did that. But he said no, so I walked away.” Neal called back a week later and conceded—they’d dig the bathtub. After the Arboretum came the Tower of Hope; the main challenge for it was, in Neal’s words, “an exhausting amount of seismic mitigation. ”
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