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For Opening, They’ll Pray-- Then Party

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is a place of worship, but when the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels opens next month, its grounds will become a place to party. At two social events--one formal, one less so--Catholics and non-Catholics will gather on its 2.5-acre Grand Plaza to celebrate what billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad calls another “jewel in the crown of Grand Avenue.”

Along with a dedication Mass on Sept. 2 and an ecumenical prayer service on Sept. 4, two fund-raising galas on Sept. 7 are what remain of a larger initial plan to celebrate the opening with 16 events. “We canceled them for economic reasons--we were a little ambitious in our original thinking,” said William M. Close, vice president of the cathedral advisory board and gala co-chairman. (The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has curbed spending in many areas in response to stock market losses. The prospect of future settlements in sexual abuse cases is also a concern.)

After the celebrations were scaled back, efforts were focused on drawing guests from the community at large to the opening-week activities.

Partygoers on Sept. 7 will be wined and dined and, among other activities, explore the cathedral’s main terrace with its pool and cascading waterfall by Lita Albuquerque; pass through the 5-ton bronze cathedral doors cast by sculptor Robert Graham; and view the muted tapestries of painter John Nava.

They will also hear a demonstration of the cathedral’s 6,000-plus pipe organ, with its ranks of horizontally mounted trumpets. “We want to show it off--demonstrate that it’s not only for religious music, but for many other types of music,” said Phyllis Hennigan, cathedral donor and gala co-chairwoman. Bach--but not pop--is on the playlist. “This is an opportunity for everyone to enjoy the cathedral and learn about the ways they can use it--spiritually or socially--in their lives,” she said.

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Twelve hundred tickets--a sellout--ranging from $1,000 per person to $25,000 for a table for 10 have been purchased for the black-tie gala that aims to net $1.5 million for the cathedral’s community outreach programs.

For those who purchased tables at the $25,000 level, there is a social bonus: a private dinner hosted by Broad and his wife, Edythe, on Sept. 3 at the California Club. It Will be attended by Cardinal Roger Mahony, cathedral architect Jose Rafael Moneo and cathedral artists, including Graham and Nava. “I wanted to have this dinner because it’s time to celebrate the fact that we have artists involved in a great piece of architecture,” Broad said.

Guests were beckoned to the formal “Celebration of Dedication” with the words: “Just as the concrete shingles of the cathedral walls form the architectural shape of the building, the gathering of the Los Angeles community at this celebratory event will help to shape the spirit of the cathedral.” The inspiration for the artwork on 4,000 invitations mailed to community leaders and cathedral donors were the quartet of gilded angels wrapped around the base of the cathedral’s Rosso Laguna marble altar table.

The gala will include a cathedral tour, a formal dinner--filet of beef and angel food cake catered by Patina and wines from the cathedral cellar served on tables lighted from beneath--a multimedia presentation called “A Journey to Light,” and dancing to the band Super Diamond, with its roster of Neil Diamond hits. Lladro International, a Spanish maker of artistic porcelains, is providing the party favors.

Held later on the same evening as the black-tie celebration, will be the less formal, $125-per-person “La Luz” party for 400 people in another area of the plaza. Two hundred tickets are still available for that party; invitations went out just last week. The event will feature a tour, cocktail reception--the menu is tapas, white-wine sangria and mojitos--and the same media presentation and entertainment as the formal gala.

“Our guest list will be primarily in their 30s,” noted Amanda Mansour, “La Luz” co-chairwoman. “We wanted to make it possible for that generation to participate in an event that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive; for a lower ticket price, they will be treated to much the same experience as those at the gala celebration.”

Among those planning to attend the festivities are Tom and Margie Romano of Arcadia. They bought a table for the black-tie gala and plan to celebrate the historic opening with their three daughters and other family members. “When cathedrals were built centuries ago, it took generations,” said Margie Romano. “And here we have an opportunity to not only watch one go from the ground up, but be part of the opening ceremonies.”

Tom Romano loves the idea of being present at the launch of a cathedral in the city where he grew up. “This is the largest diocese in the country--4.5 million Catholics,” he said. “Being at the opening will give me satisfaction personally and spiritually.”

Buying a gala table “wasn’t a religious issue at all” for Roger Kozberg, senior vice president of insurance brokerage firm Marsh in Los Angeles. “It had to do with the fact that we are a major downtown employer,” he said. “The cathedral is an important statement and a wonderful focus for downtown. I’m very interested in downtown being the real center of Los Angeles. It seemed like an important thing for us to support. We’re no better than the health of our community.”

With its new cathedral in the heart of downtown, Los Angeles has become “a world-class city,” said Joanne Kozberg, president of the Music Center. “L.A. is now among the great cities of the world where you find your civic, cultural and religious edifices all together in a cluster.”

As Broad observed, “The cathedral is a very important piece of architecture in what is becoming the city’s vital core. And with its facilities and meeting rooms, it will be a great community asset.”

The gala committee has invited Robert H. Egan, producing director of the Mark Taper Forum, to create “a unique program worthy of a cathedral opening that will inspire and entertain,” said Hennigan, chairwoman of the Center Theater Group. The 30-minute multimedia presentation will tell the story of the cathedral using original music, light, imagery and the spoken word.

“The foremost thing in my mind when I created the program was the significance of the building on both the sacred and secular levels and how those two engage each other in the life of this community,” Egan said. “The program celebrates what is and what is possible in the church today--the building is a huge symbol of that.”

Not only will the social events capping the dedication welcome the community to the cathedral, “it will raise funds for the poorest of the poor who live only blocks away,” Close said. “It’s important to recognize that a great cathedral has been built in a city that needed one.”


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