Unique twins, unique churches

By Michael Raffety 5-20-13

My daughter and I were sitting in a San Francisco French restaurant looking out the window on Pine Street when we saw the most astounding sight other than the Gay Pride Parade. Walking across the street and right by our window were two elderly twin ladies dressed exactly alike and wearing matching leopard print hats.

And I didn’t have a camera.

That was about a year ago. Then the whole family saw them on the day after Thanksgiving as we were exiting the St. Francis Hotel on Powell Street where we were looking over the sugar castle and model train in the lobby. I had my camera, but it was dark and I was far back. The flash didn’t quite catch up with the twins.

It was the last time we would see them. In January Vivian Brown, who was 8 minutes older than her sister, died at age 85. Apparently she had Alzheimer’s.

The late Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote about them, though I don’t remember specifically reading about them. I kept reading Herb Caen when I worked in Woodland and then for the year I was at the paper in Ione. My first encounter with the twins was two years ago at the Rue Lepic on Pine Street.

The twins, according to an obit written by Lee Romney of the Los Angeles Times, were natives of Kalamazoo, Mich. They held degrees in business administration, moving to San Francisco in 1973. Vivian became a legal secretary and Marian, the surviving twin, worked in a bank.

“About a quarter century ago the twins admitted to an interviewer that after a six-month attempt to dress differently in their 20s, they had abandoned the project forever. Even their lingerie matched,” Romney wrote.

Besides the shock of seeing the twins and their matching fashions I also noticed that they smiled a lot. They were very friendly and didn’t mind having their photo taken.

• • •

In 2006 when my son’s college basketball team won the Big West Tournament in Anaheim, qualifying for the NCAA tournament, my wife and I drove by the Crystal Cathedral on the way to a restaurant. We stopped and looked around at the home of the Hour of Power broadcast. Besides a very nice garden and some statues, the cathedral itself was impressive. It was bright and airy because of the wall of windows on three sides and the ceiling. Several years later when we visited Boston and toured the Old North Church we realized light and airy was an American tradition. The same with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

The Hour of Power and Crystal Cathedral were long associated with the Rev. Robert H. Schuller. He began 52 years ago by conducting weekly prayer services atop the snack bar of a drive-in movie. (By the way, how many people remember the drive-in movie here on El Dorado Road?)

But in 2008 the Crystal Cathedral ran into financial difficulty and filed for bankruptcy in 2010. In 2011 the cathedral and its 40-acre Garden Grove campus were sold to the Catholic archdiocese for $57.5 million. They have started a $100 million capital campaign to renovate it and rename it Christ Church. It still has one of he biggest organs in the world, with pipes and even trumpets situated around the cathedral for surround sound.

I doubt the Catholics will use the wire contraptions that brought women dressed as angels swooping above the audience.

Designed by architect Philip Johnson, the Crystal Cathedral took three years to build and was finished in 1980 at a cost of $18 million. The 10,000 glass panes are glued together with silicone rather than being bolted. This helps it withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake.

I hope the Catholics allow weekday tours like the Crystal Cathedral Ministries did. It is a special experience.


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