Supporters say the heavenly make-over is a tribute to a higher power. But it carries a lofty price.
COSTA MESA — Robert Scott gazes at Trinity Broadcasting Network‘s new world headquarters and is inspired. To him, the millions that Jan and Paul Crouch have poured into it is money well spent.
“God created our universe, so whatever we do for him should be first-class,” said Scott, 45, a Riverside car salesman. “This is for his glory. It should be the best.”
The object of Scott’s admiration is Trinity Christian City International, a dazzling 65,000-square-foot building that houses a new studio, bookstore and theater, and a richly appointed suite of offices for TBN founder Paul Crouch.
Unveiled last week, the building’s two-year makeover affords a rare glimpse at the inner workings of the world’s largest Christian broadcast network.
The Orange County-based network has grown in 25 years from one station to 750, largely thanks to gifts from viewers.
The Costa Mesa-based ministry stands apart, even from its often-dramatic Pentecostal cousins.
They are among the most influential of modern-day evangelists, photographed with presidents and queens, traveling the world by private jet, a channel to God for 8 million saved souls.
Supporters say the heavenly make- over is a tribute to a higher power. But it carries a lofty price.
But the public won’t see it. A TBN official describes it as ‘standard executive offices.’
With its blend of old-fashioned evangelism and satellite technology, the network that began in rented Santa Ana studios has flourished into a global operation fueled by more than $80 million a year in public contributions.
While most of the money goes toward expanding its broadcast “footprint,” the ministry also has pumped millions into capital projects such as the new world headquarters and similar showplaces in Tennessee and Texas.
Like the others, Trinity Christian City International is hard to miss, situated just across from South Coast Plaza on the San Diego (I-405) Freeway, its white exterior bathed in bright lights. Fashioned after the Palace at Versailles, Hearst Castle and other architectural masterpieces, it is something of a hybrid in other ways as well.
It is an office building, but its TV studios are designed to look like the inside of a Gothic cathedral, complete with stained-glass windows and padded pews for the audience.
The new set is more subdued than the one at the Tustin studio, with its antebellum motif, red carpet and velvet furniture.
Plans for a first floor “meditation room” to provide visitors a place for personal reflection were scrapped to expand the gift shop. So services at the new facility are broadcasts of “Praise the Lord,” a Pentecostal talk-and-variety show hosted by the Crouches and beamed around the globe.
The building was designed and decorated at the direction of the Crouches, from the main lobby’s baroque marble staircase and 15-foot-high, molded polymer statue of Michael the Archangel, to the velvet settees in the executive suite.
The headquarters has drawn some criticism as too ostentatious — even for a ministry that promotes the gospel of personal wealth on more than 750 TV stations worldwide.
“They say, ‘Look at all this we did for Jesus. God deserves the best,’ ” said Jeffrey K. Hadden, a University of Virginia sociology professor who has studied televangelism. “God just might not want to dwell therein.”
Other churches also have been criticized for spending on bricks and mortar instead of philanthropy, including the Rev. Robert H. Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, which cost $20 million in 1980, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ new cathedral, which is expected to cost more than $50 million.
The man who helped redesign the TBN building said visitors love it.
“The overwhelming reaction we’ve had is very positive and very warm,” said TBN art director Doug Marsh, who drew the original sketches for the makeover.
The exterior features elaborate Corinthian columns, colonial balustrades, French wrought iron and Greek colonnades with dental molding and egg-and-dart detailing.
The faux brass ceilings in the bookstore and bathrooms are polished to a mirror finish. Austrian-style drapes plunge three stories from ceiling to floor. Everywhere are hand-painted gold moldings, beveled glass and portraits of cherubs.
“It attracts a lot of attention, I think, because it is making such an unusual statement, ” said Cindy Voorhees, a Huntington Beach designer of church interiors.
“Highly eclectic,” is how she characterized it.
Technically, the building could be described as neoclassical, akin to the architecture in Washington, D.C., said Joe Woolett, an Orange architect who specializes in churches. TBN’s facility is more postmodern, he said, though postmodernism is usually more restrained.
Voorhees and Woolett were not involved in the TBN project. Marsh, who designs TBN broadcast sets, said he was pleased with the way the headquarters building turned out.
“The most apt description of the building is it is classical architecture based on Mediterranean influence,” Marsh said.
One of the Crouches’ sons teased Jan Crouch about the building’s flashiness.
“Some don’t like gold lame as much as you,” he told his mother on the air. “I wouldn’t decorate my home like this. But it’s beautiful.”
Randall Balmer, a Columbia University religion professor, said the building reflects a “the more ostentatious the better” philosophy shared by Pentecostal adherents to the prosperity gospel: Those who give money for God’s work will reap financial reward themselves.
“If they are affluent and show it, then people who are sending money will believe they can share in that prosperity if they send more,” Balmer said.
When TBN purchased the building for $6 million, it was a drab, brown stucco-and-glass box, the former home of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, and the Crouches planned only minor changes.
“I was told that when they first went in there in February of ’96, they were just going to change the carpet and do some painting inside,” said Richard Hubble, whose Fort Worth, Texas, construction company put a new facade on the building. “It kind of grew.”
A new $1 million face was put on the building using an “exterior foam insulation system,” Hubble said. Balustrades, columns and other architectural features were made from styrofoam, then covered with fiberglass mesh, coated with plaster and painted.
The main fountain in front of the building is used for full-immersion baptisms and is patterned after one in New York’s Central Park. It is fed by a small aqueduct the Crouches call “the River of Life.” Hubble said it cost about $1 million, and landscaping the property tacked on about $400,000.
“The old Full Gospel Business Men’s building, as we have said before, has been born again!” Crouch told viewers recently.
While Hubble estimated the total cost of the two-year makeover at $10 million to $12 million, not counting the purchase of the building, others say the price was much more.
TBN officials will not disclose the project’s cost, and Costa Mesa building permits that place a $2 million-plus valuation on the renovation work do not begin to reflect the actual costs.
Much of the interior features gleaming marble floors and intricately detailed ceilings. The lobby ceiling is covered with 217 hand-painted cherubs, many depicting the faces of TBN employees’ children.
The building also features the “Via Dolorosa,” where visitors can stroll a movie set-like replica of the Jerusalem street over which Christ carried his cross to Calvary, complete with thunder and lightning effects.
A trio of water-spewing lion heads near the main entrance are fashioned after those at William K. Vanderbilt’s Marble House in Newport, R.I.
Mourad Morkos of Lake Forest became an instant admirer recently when he shopped the bookstore, wandered the gardens and watched two New Testament movies in the high-tech Virtual Reality Theater.
“It’s a very great building,” said Morkos, who was a physician in his native Egypt before moving here last year. The building inspired him to start watching TBN on television.
While the Crouches had a basic idea in mind, Hubble said, he and others involved in the project were “designing as we went” to fit the couple’s changing vision of what the final result should be, he said.
“A lot of what went on there was, the designer does a lot of sketches, and then the architect does enough drawings to get the permits, and then I guess I’d say a big portion of the detail was left for us to figure out,” he said.
Some who worked on the project say money and materials were squandered because of the Crouches’ ever-changing demands.
“I would like to see people know exactly what they’re doing, because I see not just a couple of dollars being thrown away, but a lot of money being thrown away,” said Steve Oliver, a master journeyman carpenter.
However, while some legitimate ministries and teachers (those who adhere to the orthodox teachings and practices of historical Christianity) appear on TBN, the network promotes such an incredible amount of heretical material – including extremist Word-Faith teachings – that it is often referred to as “The Blasphemy Network.”
TBN officials declined to say how much was spent.
“It is a functional building,” TBN Vice President Terrence Hickey said. “It was in sad shape before. The outside is all facade. It’s not like we constructed (a new building) like that.”
The cherubs on the lobby ceiling were done by portrait artist Jane Garrison, who spent 10 months on it. She worked atop a scissors lift, a week at a time, eight to 10 hours a day, and then went home to Arkansas to rest before resuming.
“By the end of the week, I kept thinking, ‘If I have to climb this ladder and do one more cherub …,’ ” she said. “But then I’d get down and think, ‘Yes, I’d like to do another.’ ”
Garrison, who charges $3,000 apiece for full-length portraits at her Fayetteville studio, would not say how much she was paid for her work at TBN.
She also has been commissioned to do other work at the new building, including seven original paintings. Three are “food-related biblical paintings” for the dining room in the private executive suite, and a Garrison original dominates the center ceiling of the main lobby.
“Jan wanted cherubs and ribbons, and flowers. But Paul wanted more,” she said. “So we agreed on the Second Coming of Christ. He’s on a white horse. And three warrior angels are with him in the middle.”
Frank McGervey, a Trabuco Canyon painting contractor who worked on other TBN projects, said the new headquarters was one “to die for.” He noted that a laborious technique was used to apply several coats of paint to interior walls, giving them a richness much like fine furniture.
The work his company bid on went to painters from Texas, but he admired the finished product anyway: “The building is like Arrowhead Pond — Orange County at its finest.”
As it should be, according to the Crouches and some of their TV guests.
During TBN’s recent Praise-A-Thon fund-raiser, the Rev. John Hagee of San Antonio said churches could take a lesson from Disneyland’s meticulous upkeep and appearance.
“If Disneyland, which is a memorial to a dead mouse, can do that, why can’t we do better for the kingdom of God?” he said, adding that the New Jerusalem won’t be done on the cheap for the Second Coming.
“The streets are finespun gold, the 12 gates are of solid pearl, the foundation is diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies,” he said. “If that is poverty, I want some of it.”
His thinking is shared by Scott, the car salesman who drove from Riverside just to eat his lunch and reflect on the new building, which he called the Crouches’ dream come true.
“To me, this just shows that Paul and Jan are striving for excellence,” he said. “It helps me, because it makes me realize that I can do it, too.”