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Open House at San Gabriel Mission : * Restoration: Cardinal's role in a fund-raising drive boosts spirits at earthquake-damaged church.


SAN GABRIEL — Buoyed by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's acceptance of the honorary chairmanship of the fund-raising drive for restoration of the San Gabriel Mission, parishioners will hold an open house today at the historic, earthquake-damaged structure.

Docents will lead free tours from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the 221-year-old mission, fourth-oldest of California's original 21. Groups of 10 will be taken into the mission's first sanctuary, which has been closed since the Whittier Narrows earthquake of 1987.

Inside the sanctuary, considered the oldest stone building standing in the state, visitors will have an opportunity to view the elegant altar that was undergoing restoration before the earthquake and has since been repaired.

"We just want people to see how beautiful the altar is," restoration director Helen Nelson said.

Renovation of the altar, however, was separate from the earthquake repairs, she said, and much more money needs to be raised for the overall repairs to the heavily damaged building, its bell tower and adjacent museum.

The 2,200-member parish has raised $800,000 in contributions and grants from private foundations. "We don't have a solid figure, but we do know it will probably be a couple of million dollars more that we need," Nelson said.

Some difficulties in fund raising have occurred because of the issue of separation of church and state. State funds have been allocated to help restore the museum, church officials said, but the sanctuary is considered ineligible in spite of being a state historical monument.

Still, Nelson said, she hopes fund raising will be boosted by Mahony's decision earlier this year to lend his name to a campaign to raise more than $1 million for the next phases of the restoration, to repair the bell tower and museum.

In the years immediately after the quake, mission officials expressed some disappointment that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles wasn't more forthcoming with support. Nelson said it was thought that because the mission wasn't being regularly used for services, it didn't demand immediate attention as did other earthquake-damaged churches and schools that were being used daily.

As part of the open house, there will be a continental breakfast (donation requested) in the mission gardens, located between the original mission and the 34-year-old building where most church functions take place.

The mission is at 537 W. Mission Drive, across from City Hall.

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