Thursday, February 11, 2010

From the Archives: L.A.'s Cathedral

(Originally posted on 5/9/2009)

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is the third-largest cathedral in the world and serves as the seat of the archbishop of Los Angeles. The cathedral was completed in 2002 and was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, who received architecture's highest honor - the Pritzker Prize - in 1996.

The great cathedrals of Europe were traditionally built next to rivers but in Los Angeles, the cathedral is next to the 101 freeway. Architect Rafael Moneo has likened the freeway to a modern day river that serves an an artery for commerce and transportation in the city. The view of the cathedral is so clear from the freeway that many Angelinos refer to it as "Our Lady of the 101."

Robert Graham (1938-2008), a Venice Beach based artist and husband of actress Angelica Huston, created the monumental brass doors and the modern sculpture of the Virgin Mary at the entrance to the cathedral:
Architectural critics have described the cathedral as "introspective" because it is somewhat uninviting from the exterior, but has beautiful interior spaces. The cathedral didn't appeal to me at first, but it has grown on me. I like the solidity of the building, its unusual angles, its warm color, and the repetive horizontal stripes on the exterior.

A view toward the bell tower from the front courtyard:

Here are some views of the massive exterior from the side of the building that doesn't face the 101:

The interior is divided into small and large spaces and is lit with natural light filtered through alabster windows. I had trouble capturing the quality of the interior spaces in my photos. Here is one view of the central cross over the main altar:

Our Lady of the Angels is open to the public and is located in downtown L.A. on Temple Street between Grand Avenue and Hill Street. The cathedral has an outdoor plaza and garden and lots of contemporary Catholic artwork inside. There are docent-led tours Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. and self guided tour booklets available for purchase in the gift store. More information is available at the cathedral's website.

View Our Lady of the Angels in a larger map


  1. I think your blog is awesome! I love all the photography and your various posts about all your explorations. :) By the way, I've taken quite a few of the various tours offered in LA and if you ever need any suggestions, please drop me a line.

  2. If Robocop were Catholic, he would worship here!

  3. Pleasurepalate: Thanks for your comment and for the tour and restaurant suggestions!

    Anonymous: One of Archbishop Mahoney's stated goals for the cathedral was to create a building that would "speak to" L.A.'s extremely diverse Catholic population. I'm not sure whether the building's ultra-contemporary style, which my architecture guide describes as "new brutalism," has widespread appeal. The interior artwork may be more successful in this regard and includes art work such as John Nava's large tapestries that celebrate saints of varying ages, backgrounds, ethnicities.

  4. Visited the cathedral last Saturday. Very interesting to see your photographs of the cathedral in the context of the adjacent freeway. There are none others.

    Please go back and re-photograph the cathedral from the plaza with the brutalistic fine arts high school soaring in the background ... it's quite an impressive architectural composition. Interesting too that the school is on the opposite side of the freeway, but from the courtyard, the two could be seen as one.

    The cathedral courtyard cafe is now closed on Saturdays, so we dined on delicious panini at nearby MOCA for $5. Try the ham and Swiss cheese.