‘I don’t like the idea of having bodies lying 100 feet from my home.’ : Cemetery Plan Gets a Rowdy Reception

Times Staff Writer

The Crystal Cathedral, whose message of love and hope and positive thinking is broadcast to millions of television viewers each Sunday morning, has failed to gain the love of some of its neighbors.

About 70 Garden Grove residents who live outside the block wall surrounding the $20-million, cross-shaped structure turned out Thursday night for a meeting of the city’s Planning Commission and made it a stormy session indeed.

Some heckled the church’s representative, the Rev. Herman Ridder, as he urged the commission to approve the church’s plan for a cemetery and a family center. They interrupted him with hoots and cries of “Who cares?” and “He talks too much,” prompting the commission chairman to threaten them with removal if the outcries continued.


Action Postponed

One resident called the 12-story-high cathedral “a monstrosity.” And Ridder acknowledged at one point that the church has not been “a good neighbor.” After three hours of bickering between members of the congregation and Garden Grove residents opposed to the plan, the commissioners postponed action until their Dec. 12 meeting.

Some of the seven commissioners said they would have to reject the proposal if they had to vote that night, citing the lack of specific plans for the cemetery and the objections of neighbors.

“Do you really expect us to approve a plan that we haven’t even seen?” asked Commissioner Irv Wagner, adding that the church has shown great compassion for causes around the world but that the commission was obliged to think of “Garden Grove first.”

Ridder described in detail the church’s plans for a 1.5-acre cemetery and a six-story center containing classrooms, meeting rooms, a gymnasium and racquetball courts, and said he expected them to be assets to the community.

‘Mobile Population’

“We have a very mobile population and culture,” he said. “A lot of people look to the cathedral as a place they can identify with. . . . We feel this development will enhance the property and, in fact, be a thing of beauty.”

Commissioner Jerry Margolin remarked that he wasn’t sure that the cemetery could be classified as a non-commercial use. “As space becomes more limited, this would become an even more coveted place for these people who are sincerely dedicated to the church,” he said. “I can’t believe there’s no profit motive.”

After several church members stated their support for the plan, a stream of irate neighbors testified about noise, parking and their opposition to burials near their homes. “I don’t like the idea of having bodies lying 100 feet from my home,” said Albert Eskanazi, who described the cathedral as a “monstrosity.”

Ted Faulkner, who lives on Dawn Avenue, said that cars are parked and even double-parked on his street during the Rev. Robert Schuller’s sermons. “You can’t even drive down your own street to get to your own home on Sundays,” he said.

Ridder said he believes that a recent neighborhood meeting held at the cathedral was a first step in healing the rift between the church and nearby residents, adding that the problems indicate a “failure” on the part of the church. He promised to return to the commission with more specific plans at the Dec. 12 meeting.

He noted that the family center would accommodate youth facilities now housed in the “Hour of Power” TV building across Chapman Avenue. “This is an attempt to bring the whole family back together again,” he said.

The proposal as submitted to the commission shows the family center site on the southwest corner of the property, where there is now a parking area, and the cemetery on a triangular-shaped parcel in the northwest portion of the grounds. The cemetery, according to the proposal, would include wall niches for cremated remains and “a major art feature” of a nature yet to be determined.