If They Can Raze it, Why Can't I? A Constitutional Analysis of Statutory and Judicial Religious Exemptions to Historic Preservation Ordinances
Guiffre, Erin, "If They Can Raze it, Why Can't I? A Constitutional Analysis of Statutory and Judicial Religious Exemptions to Historic Preservation Ordinances" (2007). Georgetown Law Historic Preservation Papers Series. Paper 20.
In 1996, America almost lost a great piece of its history. The Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, located in Los Angeles, was in danger of being destroyed. The "Baroque-inspired Italianate structure" was completed in 1876 by architect Ezra F. Kysor. The cathedral is one of only a few structures from Los Angeles' early history remaining. As an important part of history and a beautiful piece of architecture, the cathedral was listed on California's register of historic places. In 1994, an earthquake damaged part of the building. After an inspection by the building and safety department in 1996, the only portion of the cathedral found to be potentially structurally unsound was the bell tower. The archdiocese began demolition of the cathedral anyway, without the demolition permits required by the building and safety department as a stipulation to an abatement order decreeing that the bell tower was an imminent danger. The archdiocese desired to build a larger facility on the land. The archdiocese believed that the historic cathedral was outgrown and not worth repairing. As a result of the dire situation, the cathedral was listed as one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 most endangered places in 1997. This listing sparked further concern from the preservationist community and they came to the rescue. Because the cathedral was on California’s register of historic places, an environmental impact report had to be completed before the building could be razed. When the demolition was started before the church obtained permits, at the urging of preservationists, a judge issued a temporary restraining order to halt the demolition. The cathedral was saved when the wrecking crane was "literally 20 feet away." Because of the prevention of immediate demolition, the city and the archdiocese were able to enter into negotiations that resulted in the sale of the cathedral instead of its demolition. The cathedral is now used as a performing arts complex and library. Sadly, California has moved in the direction of not protecting historic religious properties. Although state laws still apply, California now completely exempts religious institutions from local historic preservation ordinances. Historic structures located in other parts of the country are also in danger due to similar religious exemptions.
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