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Mayor Rallies for Cathedral Demolition

Preservation: About 125 people gather to protest suit blocking destruction of quake-damaged building.


In the shadow of the church's partly dismantled bell tower, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and key City Council members publicly rallied Monday to support the Roman Catholic archdiocese's plan to demolish quake-damaged St. Vibiana's Cathedral and build a replacement at the downtown site.

"History matters, history informs, history challenges. But leaving St. Vibiana's in her current state would be the reckless destruction of our future," Riordan told a rally of about 125 people in the church parking lot, which was roped off halfway to avoid what city and church officials say is serious seismic danger.

"I ask you: Do we choose decay in our city's center," Riordan continued, "or do we choose a centerpiece of renewal?"

Cardinal Roger Mahony amplified prior statements that he will move the new cathedral project out of downtown or out of the city if a current lawsuit continues against bell tower demolition, if other delays arise against razing the entire cathedral and if the archdiocese is unable to purchase two adjacent land parcels "at realistic market prices." Mahony said he would announce his decision on whether and where to relocate on July 15.

Speaker after speaker Monday urged the Los Angeles Conservancy to drop its lawsuit, which seeks environmental review before tower demolition. The 120-year-old cathedral is a city landmark, a status that usually requires such review for razing except in dire emergencies. Demolition began June 1 but was blocked by a Superior Court order at least until a June 17 hearing.

Conservancy Executive Director Linda Dishman said Monday that the organization's board of directors would be discussing the cathedral lawsuit at a meeting later this week. She said she did not know whether the group might agree to end the legal action.

Today, the cardinal is expected to announce that the architect of the new cathedral will be Jose Rafael Moneo, who works mainly in Spain and is a Harvard University professor and winner of this year's Pritzker Prize, the Nobel of architecture. While not mentioning Moneo by name Monday, Mahony invited the conservancy to work with the chosen architect to incorporate in a new church the stained-glass windows, statues and other artifacts recently removed from the old one.

Dishman said the conservancy "certainly appreciated the invitation to resume good-faith dialogue."

At the rally, City Council President John Ferraro noted that he supported the conservancy on different issues but that the organization is wrong on the cathedral. "So please wise up," he urged conservancy leaders. "Use good common sense."

Councilman Nate Holden was more direct. "Knock it down!" Holden declared, pointing at the church behind him.

The rally was organized by the Central City Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, which represents downtown interests. Council member Rita Walters, whose district includes the church, emceed the rally and the cardinal lightheartedly suggested that the new cathedral be named "St. Rita's" in thanks for her efforts. Council members Richard Alatorre, Marvin Braude and Mark Ridley-Thomas also attended.

Rally participants were offered free parking at a Spring Street garage owned by the Los Angeles Times. Laura Morgan, director of communications for The Times, explained that it reflected a long-standing policy making facilities available to community groups, such as the conservancy, which used a Times auditorium for a May 1 meeting. "Doing so has no bearing on our news coverage," Morgan stated.

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