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Touched by an Angle

June 14, 1998|Ted Johnson

When St. Monica Catholic Church needed to replace a well-worn meeting hall at its Santa Monica site, parish leaders found their designer in an occasional churchgoer who lived not too far away: Frank Gehry. The world-renowned architect--who was in the throes of reviving the Disney Hall project and opening the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain--donated his designs to the much smaller-scaled St. Monica structure, to be constructed this summer.

Gehry is not a member of St. Monica (he is Jewish), but he finds his "spiritual connection" to the parish through his wife, Berta, a Catholic with whom he sometimes celebrates Mass. "I find the service quite friendly," he says, "and I like being with her."

The architect struck a friendship with the church's monsignor, Lloyd Torgerson, who asked him to design the new meeting hall. The old hall and an adjacent patio serve as the parish's meet-and-greet area. Gehry's design turns the building's orientation 90 degrees for a "more welcoming" plaza. Gehry admits Torgerson was "scared of what I was going to do" (think titanium turrets), but his design is relatively subdued. "I love it," Torgerson says. "I gave him that one word, 'hospitality,' and it's just a wonderful expression of that."

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