An iconic evangelical Christian megachurch in Garden Grove that will be converted into a Catholic church will do so with the help of two L.A. architecture firms.

Chinatown firm Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios of Hancock Park announced last week that they had been selected by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange to lead a $53 million redesign of the distinctive Crystal Cathedral and its 34-acre grounds.

The diocese bought the unique glass church, designed by the late Philip Johnson and built in 1981, for nearly $58 million last year. Prominent televangelist Rev. Robert Schuller preached from the 2,700-seat sanctuary for more than 30 years before retiring last year after his Crystal Cathedral Ministries declared bankruptcy in 2010.

“Their idea is to restore and conserve the existing distinctive shell, then carefully go through the interior and adjust it and revise it and improve upon it,” said Scott Johnson, a founding partner of Johnson Fain. “I think we can, in a sense, construct a building within a building.”

While the architects must address the ways sound and light play off the glass surfaces of the building, he said, more challenging will be accommodating Catholic practices such as processional events where clergy march into the church through a grand doorway, up a center aisle and into the sanctuary.

“The church is (shaped) like a broad star, where on three of four points there are entryways,” he said. “One has to wrestle with that and figure out how to incorporate that into a processional Catholic space.”

Mark Rios and Frank Clementi, whose firm designed Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles, will handle landscaping and site planning for the sweeping campus.

Rios said his firm is exploring ways to make the campus flexible for future growth while maintaining respect for what came before the Catholic church.

“There are a lot of memorials and statuary on site that were part of the Crystal Cathedral,” he said. “So we’re looking at how best to transition those in a dignified way.”

– Bethany Firnhaber

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