GARDEN GROVE : Architects Praise Spire at Cathedral


Garden Grove’s already acclaimed Crystal Cathedral, newly crowned with a glistening 18-story stainless-steel steeple, can now be truly classified as an Orange County landmark, architects said Monday.

“Most architecture isn’t great. This project is,” said architect Leason Pomeroy, president of the Irvine-based firm that designed the county’s new airport terminal. “Our community needs landmark architecture.”

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller on Sunday dedicated the $5.5-million spire, which was completed over the summer and is now one of the county’s tallest structures. New York architect Phillip Johnson, the designer of both the new steeple and the glass-walled church, was on hand for the ceremony.


Built with 9-foot reflective steel prisms, the 236-foot spire includes a 52-bell carillon and is topped by a beacon for aircraft. It also features an underground chapel with a revolving crystal cross.

“It’s designed, engineered and constructed as a thing of beauty, a joy forever to last literally for centuries,” Schuller said. The tower is also earthquake proof, he added.

Johnson, 84, told the congregation during the ceremony that he was surprised at the overall effect of his design.

“It is so far more than I expected that it’s hard even to speak about it,” he said. “I didn’t realize that what we have here, Robert, is a tower that is built of light. That celebrates the sun as great towers should. But in a new way.”

Johnson, who donated his design services, went on to say that he had help in creating the tower. “I think you all know where that help came from.”

Johnson also designed the 10-year-old cathedral, constructed of 10,000 panes of glass and exposed rods and pipes, and featuring 90-foot-high glass doors. The spire, or campanile, was part of the original plan, but wasn’t built because Schuller’s church ran out of money.

“If Philip Johnson hadn’t lived to be 84, it would never have been finished. He’s the only person who could have finished it.”

As of last September, the church was also $2 million short of being able to pay for the tower. But a gift in that amount from Newport Beach philanthropists John and Donna Crean put the building fund over the top, sources said. The spire is called the Crean Tower.

The rest came from “friends of the ministry,” including $200,000 from philanthropist Armand Hammer and $1 million from Mary Tolerton Hood, widow of Clifford F. Hood, former president of U.S. Steel Corp. The still unfinished chapel is named for her.

When people question the cost, Schuller said he replies that it is better to focus on how long the structure will last and how many people will enjoy it.