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'Possibility Center' Now an O.C. Reality

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller unveils the $40-million finishing touch on his Crystal Cathedral campus in Garden Grove.

May 17, 2003|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, whose television ministry has long been symbolized by Garden Grove's towering Crystal Cathedral, will unveil his latest monument this weekend: the $40-million International Center for Possibility Thinking, designed by Getty Center architect Richard Meier.

It took 13 years and the sweat of 183,000 workers to build King Solomon's temple in Jerusalem. Schuller needed four more years to complete his project -- in part because of a man who demanded -- and got -- $1 million for a tract house that stood in the minister's way.

"I don't think any developer has had a bigger job than I had in buying 40 homes," Schuller said of the neighborhood he leveled to make way for the center.

"Each of them knew I wanted their home," Schuller said. And none of them, he said, "were immune to greed."

For Schuller, the 58,000-square-foot stainless-steel-and-glass "welcome center" marks the completion of nearly five decades of building on his 40-acre Crystal Cathedral campus, where he has popularized a Christian theology based on the strength of "possibility thinking" empowered by God.

His new center, named after that mantra, opens Sunday, and joins Richard Neutra's Tower of Hope and Philip Johnson's shimmering cathedral as among the nation's most architecturally significant religious buildings.

"They are three iconic examples of modern architecture," said Bob Newsom, president of the American Institute of Architects' California council. "It represents the evolution of architecture in Southern California in the last 50 years."

Newsom was among more than a hundred institute members who toured the Center for Possibility Thinking on Thursday. Their guide was the 76-year-old "Hour of Power" host, who two years ago received the institute's first lifetime achievement award.

Schuller led them on a preview that was equal parts biographical monologue, sermon and architectural lecture.

"Everything makes a statement. That's why I'm the first guy in history to make sidewalks out of Bible passages," he said. "This building is designed to be a sermon. The building preaches a sermon, and it's the sermon I've been preaching for 48 years."

An inscription on a wall inside the soaring main lobby offers Schullarian advice that is also a metaphor for the building: "If you can dream it you can do it!" A massive curved glass wall offers a view of his cathedral.

On the second floor, a museum tells Schuller's story -- from 1955, when he preached from a snack bar roof at an Orange County drive-in theater, to the development of a megachurch that broadcasts its message on television to more than 200 countries.

"It's a museum that motivates," Schuller said.

He showed the visiting architects the third-floor Dreamers Dedication Chapel, where visitors -- the church gets more than 500,000 a year -- will be encouraged to leave hand-written notes on the altar.

He led the architects to the lower level, not yet completed, where there will be an auditorium and a food court where Starbucks coffee will be served.

And he showed them a wall made up of 20,000 crystal bricks etched with names of those who donated $500 to the project.

Some $5 million still needs to be raised, and bricks are still available. "If you want one, I'll sell it to you," Schuller told the architects.

He pointed out how Meier's design incorporates his ideas on the use of light, color and texture; how the stairs, deep and shallow, ascend like a slope up a hill; how the interior conforms with the architectural philosophy of "biorealism," which seeks to incorporate biology and behavior with design; how the new building complements the other two on campus, giving each equal emotional weight.

Architecture captured Schuller's imagination in college, and he has learned the art in a manner not offered by any school: by spending $100 million and collaborating with three of world's greatest architects.

Now the work is done. From idea to ribbon-cutting, the projects have been Schuller's muse for 48 years. He insists he will not miss her.

"I'm 76," he said. "I've been there. I've done that."

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