The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who built the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove as the embodiment of an upbeat, modern vision of Christianity, only to see his ministry shattered by family discord and financial ruin, has died. He was 88.
Schuller, who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2013, died Thursday morning at a skilled nursing facility in Artesia, his daughter Carol Milner said.
After a working life of great success and influence, Schuller was forced to watch from retirement as much of what he built was laid to waste. In October 2010, his church, then led by his daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, declared bankruptcy. That led to the sale of the cathedral and surrounding property to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in February 2012.
One of Schuller’s legacies is the Crystal Cathedral — since renamed Christ Cathedral — a Philip Johnson-designed structure made of steel and 10,000 panes of glass. Using the pastor’s desire for an open-air worship space as inspiration, Johnson created a building where congregants could feel connected to God by gazing out the 12-story-high glass walls and ceiling to view the sky, clouds, trees and birds. Completed in 1980, it cost $20 million to build.
“The Crystal Cathedral is not an attempt to be an architectural ego-statement,” Schuller said in a 1997 interview with the American Academy of Achievement. “It’s probably the ultimate spiritual and psychological statement that could be made in architectural terms.”
Until money problems surfaced at the Crystal Cathedral, Schuller had steered clear of the scandals that led to the downfall of other televangelists. But he did receive a steady stream of criticism from some Christians — including those within his denomination — for his downplaying of sin, tying popular psychology too closely to the Gospel and constructing a series of world-class buildings with millions of dollars that could have been spent on the poor.
Rest In peace.