Crystal Cathedral converts

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LOCAL: After 50-plus years, an iconic Southern California church goes bankrupt as the founding family, the Schullers, step down and cut its ties.

  • 1955: Robert H. Schuller converts a drive-in movie theater to a drive-in church, precursor to the Crystal Cathedral.
  • 1980: The Crystal Catherdral, designed by architect Philip Johnson, is christened as the world’s first all-glass church.
  • 2011: After filing for bankruptcy in 2010, the church is sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for $57.5 million.

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The rise and fall of the Crystal Cathedral is a tale of a single family and the displacement of its congregation.

The Schullers led the church in the city of Orange since its inception in 1955, but the family recently cut ties as a dwindling congregation and a $55 million debt led the church to bankruptcy.

Rising production costs for the church’s seasonal performances and the weekly television broadcast, “The Hour of Power,” are credited as playing a key role in the church’s financial downfall.

The Rev. Dr. Robert H. Schuller founded the original church in 1955, when he converted a drive-in movie theater to a drive-in church.

As membership grew, he built a new church. The initial structure was designed by noted architect Richard Neutra.

Schuller’s vision led to creation of the iconic image of towering glass now known as the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. It was designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson along with his partner John Burgee.

Schuller eventually stepped down as the church’s leader in 2006, passing the church and its congregation on to his son, Robert A. Schuller.

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Yet, Robert A. Schuller only led the church for two years before he resigned in 2008 amid controversy.

In a recent interview, Robert A. Schuller claimed that sibling rivalry led to his departure and with his resignation Sheila Schuller Coleman stepped in to lead.

As leadership changed hands, the church’s popular seasonal performances were becoming more expensive.

With membership falling and donations at an all-time low, the church declared bankruptcy in October 2010.

There were several offers from local organizations to buy the church grounds and its buildings, including a bid from Chapman University.

However, the cathedral was recently sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for $57.5 million.

“You didn’t see the destruction of the church, you saw a rebirth,” said Steve Hunt, who is a longtime member of the congregation.

Other reactions to the sale have not been so positive. Steve Mashni and his now displaced youth group of Arab American Christians have been asked to find a new place to worship.

“We’re going to be kicked out. That doesn’t make much of a difference… we worship wherever,” he said while his youth group was setting up for an Easter play.

“I feel a little disappointed in Rev. Schuller. I didn’t like the way it happened,” he added.

Schuller Coleman was the last leader of the Crystal Cathedral, and on March 10, she resigned from her position to start a new congregation, Hope Center for Christ.

Schuller Coleman held her first services at the AMC Theatre 15 in Orange.


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