Vibiana | Redbird
The former Cathedral of St. Vibiana, now known simply as Vibiana, opened in 1876. Designed by architect Ezra F. Kysor, one of Los Angeles’ first practicing architects, the cathedral was a stunning work of architecture in a town still emerging from its pueblo origins.
Renowned architect John C. Austin enlarged the structure in 1924 and created a new Main Street façade fashioned from Indiana limestone. St. Vibiana’s Cathedral was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #17 in 1963.
The historic cathedral came under threat when the Archdiocese claimed it had suffered irreparable damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake and proposed demolition. The Los Angeles Conservancy led an epic multi-year effort to preserve the building. The Archdiocese ultimately decommissioned and deconsecrated the cathedral and built a new cathedral a few blocks away on Temple Street.
In 1999, Tom Gilmore and Jerri Perrone, developers championing the revitalization of downtown L.A., purchased the former cathedral. Taking advantage of the new Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, they created a vision for the former cathedral as a centerpiece of downtown’s revival.
The project team painstakingly cleaned and restored the site’s historic details from the inside out. Even more importantly, they stabilized the building and invisibly retrofitted the structure so that it will withstand future earthquakes.
The Cathedral of St. Vibiana reopened as an event venue, now known simply as Vibiana, in 2006. The following year, the lantern was reattached by crane to its bell tower; it had been removed in 1996 when the Archdiocese began demolition. The restored look of the former cathedral’s iconic bell tower capped off one of the Conservancy’ toughest preservation efforts and, ultimately, greatest successes.
Upon opening, Vibiana immediately became a popular venue for events and performances. But the final piece of the puzzle – the historic rectory originally constructed in 1934 – remained unfinished. In 2012, Los Angeles restauranteurs Chef Neal Fraser and Amy Knoll Fraser entered the ownership partnership and began managing the property. They transformed the former rectory into the restaurant Redbird, whose name pays homage to its former use as the home for the Cardinal. This sensitive adaptive reuse project kept historic details of the rectory building in place, and new elements are clearly delineated from the old. The main dining area seats 140 people, and the former rectory’s upper levels now serve as five unique private dining spaces. Additionally, a garden on the site, created as part of a public-private partnership with the Little Tokyo branch library next door, serves as another event space.
In 2019 Vibiana and Redbird received the Chair’s Award, the Conservancy’s highest recognition to celebrate the persistence, creativity and ultimate success of bringing this former cathedral back to life against all the odds!