A glimpse below

christ the light cathedral foundation

The new Christ the Light Cathedral is a beautiful structure, designed to guide the mind toward bliss, to allow the susceptible a glimpse of heaven. In early 2005 I sought a high place of my own type—a parking structure—to have a look at the cathedral’s construction site.

The site was at one time a glamorous high-Deco car dealership. Before that I don’t know, but the Oakland geologic map shows it as half fill and half “marine coastal terrace” deposits. The fill half would be on the lakeshore side, naturally. The terrace is basically a shelf of sediments deposited in San Francisco Bay during the last interglacial, more than 70,000 years ago, when the sea was a good five or ten meters higher than today. Only small, subtle bits of it are around today. The pit looks like it’s floored with nice clean golden sand. That might be aboriginal sediment, or it might be dirt from downtown hauled here to fill in the swampy lake shore, as it was around almost the whole lake. The downtown dirt is Merritt Sand, a widespread sheet of ancient windblown dune sand much like what underlies western San Francisco. That sand came here at the height of the last ice age, when the seas were very low, the weather was cold and the winds blew fine sand from the wide, exposed continental shelves onto the coastal hills.

If I had an hour to poke around these excavations! But only the geotechnical engineers get to do that, and maybe a touring group of their fellow professionals, all in hardhats. If any of those fine specialists are reading this, my email is geology at about dot com.

3 Responses to “A glimpse below”

  1. farmlady Says:

    Very interesting. I saw the completed Cathedral when I visited my son a few months back. It amazing!
    I would hope that it holds together in the coming “big one”. Future geologist may find a small layer of petrified glass between the layers of golden sand and aboriginal sediment.
    I hope Jesus’ image in the glass protects all those parishioners that believed building a structure like this in an earthquake prone area was a wise idea.

  2. Erik Says:

    I think it’s safe to assume that the designer was aware of the earthquake risk.

  3. Naomi Schiff Says:

    Interesting aspects were that a) originally the Diocese wanted to build on the Kaiser Auditorium parking lot at 12th Street, which is on 100% fill, and atop the old waterway between bay and what is now Lake Merritt; b) that they had to pump water out of the construction hole at this site for so many months, reminding me of construction of Moscone Center; c) that the prominent corner of Grand/Harrison is treated dismissively, like an incidental back door, d) that it re-uses a historic Catholic site, the original location of College of the Holy Names.

    The sanctuary itself is impressive but the concrete podium is dreary. (Since it is also a mausoleum maybe this is appropriate.) To me it ignores the original topography in an unfortunate way, separating itself from the sidewalk pedestrian and from the historic grade level. You can get a sense of how the area originally consisted of streams running into marshes, with wide flat areas. The slope up doesn’t really start until 27th Street.

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