BURBANK — His dreams of a hilltop cathedral in Hollywood dashed years earlier, the ranking western prelate in the Armenian Church of North America is happily settling for Burbank.
Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian said his church will soon apply for city permits to redesign the headquarters of its western diocese close to the Golden State Freeway to include a cathedral topped by a 70-foot-tall tower and dome.
"People will see something beautiful from the freeway," said Hovsepian in his office at the western diocese offices on Glenoaks Boulevard across the street from Woodbury University.
Though not as grandiose as the projected Roman Catholic cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, the Armenian cathedral complex could also serve as a cultural and educational center for many of the estimated 250,000 Armenian Americans in Los Angeles County, Hovsepian said.
"We will be ready to apply for permits in a week or two," the archbishop said this week. Depending on how that process goes, construction is expected to be completed in 1998 or 1999, he said.
The 600-seat cathedral, a large social hall and conference rooms would be fashioned mostly within the existing walls of a 34,000-square-foot building that the church bought for $2.5 million from a medical supplies company, said architect Vartan Jangozian of Glendale.
No debt remains on the property, the archbishop said. He said that billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, owner of MGM Studios and the MGM Grand hotel-casino in Las Vegas, gave $500,000 to the project through his Lincy Foundation, which also heavily supports the diocese's summer camp.
The archbishop admits to lingering frustration over his dreams, essentially abandoned in the early 1990s, to build a new cathedral on land the church owns in the Cahuenga Pass.
"We were planning to have a magnificent cathedral on about five acres of land on Barham Boulevard," he said. "We had an impasse with the neighbors because of the zoning."
When the 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged the diocese's offices at St. John Armenian Church in Hollywood, Hovsepian and diocesan administrators moved temporarily into four classrooms at St. Gregory Armenian Church in Pasadena.
The Burbank property was purchased, and after three years and three months of cramped existence at the Pasadena parish church, the diocese finally relocated in May.
Hovsepian, now 67, has headed the diocese--made up of 25 congregations in six western states--since 1971. Among the diocese's congregations are churches in Van Nuys, Inglewood, Costa Mesa, La Verne and San Diego.
(Several other Armenian churches--identical in theology and practices--are affiliated with a branch of the church that formed this century because of the Soviet domination of Armenia and other member republics for many decades. Reconciliation talks are continuing between that branch, whose patriarch resides in Lebanon, and the historic church based in Armenia.)
Hovsepian has traveled frequently to the Republic of Armenia as chairman of a committee rewriting the Armenian Apostolic Church's constitution, now that the historic church is no longer subject to Communist domination following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Recently reelected to a seven-year term as archbishop, Hovsepian said he is looking forward to hosting at his new facility the monthly meeting of the Council of Religious Leaders, a group of some 15 Christian and Jewish leaders in Los Angeles that includes Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Episcopal Bishop Frederick Borsch and United Methodist Bishop Roy Sano, among others.
Inasmuch as the Armenian Apostolic Church is part of the broad Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity, Hovsepian said that Armenian Christians are also looking forward to the Nov. 6-10 visit to California by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whose headquarters are in a small enclave in Istanbul.
Bartholomew is expected to visit Los Angeles, but details were not yet available, he said.