The former Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, often called St. Vibiana's, was the mother church cathedral parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles under the pastoral care of the Archbishop of Los Angeles. It is now the site of a performing arts complex as well as the Little Tokyo branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. The original cathedral structure is one of the last remaining buildings from the early period of Los Angeles history.
Plans for a cathedral dated back to 1859; and land for the facility was donated by Amiel Cavalier. The complex, on the southeast corner of Main and Second Street, in downtown Los Angeles was dedicated in 1876, and cost $80,000 USD. The Cathedral's architect, Ezra F. Kysor, also designed the landmark Pico House. The Baroque-inspired Italianate structure was a landmark in the early days of Los Angeles; when it opened it could hold one-tenth of the young town's population. The interior was remodeled around 1895, using onyx and marble; the exterior facade was changed in 1922-24 to give it its present look, said to be based on a Roman design.
Pope Pius IX chose the Cathedral's name, choosing third century Roman martyr Saint Vibiana. Cathedrals traditionally contained the relics of a saint, so the remains of St. Vibiana were removed from the Catacombs of Rome and moved to a gilt and plate glass sarcophagus located in a niche above the high altar.
The facility was outgrown by the region's rapidly expanding population, and the Archdiocese decided that it needed a larger main facility; however, preservationists pressured them to not destroy the historic landmark. The situation was complicated further when the 1994 Northridge Earthquake caused extensive damage to the cathedral and its 1,200-seat sanctuary. Deciding that the damage was not worth repairing in such a small structure, the Archdiocese began demolition on the site in 1996, without permits. However, the sudden dismantling of the bell tower on a Saturday morning prompted a frantic save-the-cathedral campaign, and work by the Archdiocese was halted by preservationists who had a temporary restraining order placed on demolition. The Archdiocese argued that it had the right to level its own facility; preservationists and the city wanted the church to be preserved. The structure was listed on the country's "11 Most Endangered Places" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A state Court of Appeal rejected the archdiocese's argument to be allowed to quickly demolish the cathedral; then City Councilwoman Rita Walters had moved to strip the cathedral of its historic monument status, an action that would exempt the archdiocese from having to prepare the full environmental impact study normally required for destruction of a city landmark.
Finally a compromise was reached: the City of Los Angeles agreed to swap land with the Archdiocese, giving the Church a much larger plot next to the 101 Freeway. The Archdiocese agreed and the land was developed into the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, constructed and consecrated as the new mother church cathedral parish of the Archdiocese. Some items from St. Vibiana's Cathedral were used in the new Cathedral. The stained glass and sarcophagus were placed in the new Cathedral's crypt mausoleum. Pipes from the 1980 Austin pipe organ have been incorporated into the organ at the new Cathedral. An Oratorio about Saint Vibiana was written by Peter Boyd and performed in Pacoima in 1997.
The cathedral site was taken over by the city. The city sold the former cathedral building to downtown developer Tom Gilmore in 1999 for $4.6 million. The non-historic 1940s Education Building was demolished, making way for the new Little Tokyo Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Today, the former cathedral is simply called Vibiana and serves as an event space (ex: Emmy Awards Party, Art of Elysium's Annual Charity Gala). In the fall of 2010 Grace Restaurant will open up in the decommissioned Cathedral after moving from Beverly Boulevard in Hollywood.