Monday, January 27, 2003

The new LA Cathedral as public space:

Los Angeles, we are occasionally told, does not have enough of the urban loci that unite and beautify so many other large cities. The cathedral and its plaza do both of these things, and if they don't have the weathered grace of historic landmarks, they have the more vital, if sometimes irritating, contrasts of city life.

The plaza and gardens of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels were designed with workday sanctuary in mind; the cafe added another lunch-hour destination to an area perhaps over-dependent on Koo Koo Roo and California Pizza Kitchen. And if anyone finds it odd to be standing in line with 20 or so very short nuns in full habits, ordering a pastrami sandwich from a menu emblazoned with a purple banner reading Our Lady of the Angels, it doesn't show. "Mayonnaise or mustard on that?" the lady in the hairnet asks. "Mustard," says the young man with a lip stud. "Wait, do you have Dijon?"

Although they have no idea how many freelance tourists or downtown denizens visit during the week, church officials estimate that 300 people on organized tours and 40 to 100 students on field trips tour the cathedral each day.

At lunch hour, the tables are often full, forcing some visitors to arrange their meals on the nearby benches or balance themselves on the walls that surround the olive tree grove or a bed of day lilies, whose trumpets echo the mod orange and yellow of the cafe's chairs in a way that is almost eerie.

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