If you’ve always wanted to see the Cathedral Tower completed, today is a gift from above.
We don’t wish to mislead you.
Construction is not about to resume on TV evangelist Rex Humbard’s unfinished spire in Cuyahoga Falls.
However, after 40 years of waiting, we thought you wouldn’t mind looking beyond the gray monstrosity to behold the majestic edifice that Humbard envisioned at State Road and Portage Trail.
Summit County motorists have grown so accustomed to the concrete-and-steel tower that it’s easy for them to drive past without looking up. Out-of-towners might wonder why any factory would need a smokestack that large.
Workers broke ground Sept. 10, 1971, on the 750-foot structure, which Humbard estimated would cost $3.9 million (about $21.8 million today). It was to be the tallest building in Ohio and the seventh tallest in the United States.
“The tower will be a national landmark and will be seen by 22 million people weekly on television,” he promised.
Humbard (1919-2007), a former tent revival preacher, began his TV ministry in Akron in 1952 and was the first evangelist to host a national weekly program in America. His congregation, originally known as Calvary Temple, outgrew the Copley Theater in West Akron, moved to the Ohio Theater in Cuyahoga Falls and built the 5,000-seat, $4 million Cathedral of Tomorrow in 1958 off State Road in what was then Northampton Township.
By 1970, Humbard’s syndicated program appeared on nearly 400 TV stations in North America and was broadcast overseas in 91 languages. Adjacent to the domed cathedral, the minister planned to build WCOT-TV (Channel 55) to provide “wholesome family entertainment” in Northeast Ohio.
“Since I have to build a tower anyway for my new Channel 55 in Akron, why not do one that will do more than just sit there?” Humbard mused.
Inspiration in Canada
The church leader found divine inspiration 1,700 miles away at a religious rally in Alberta, Canada, when he spotted the 626-foot Calgary Tower and realized it would look magnificent next to his cathedral. Humbard enlisted Cuyahoga Falls architect Keith Haag to adapt Calgary architect W.G. Milne’s original 1968 design.
The Cathedral Tower would feature a 250-seat restaurant, television studio, observation deck and maintenance floor in a round, four-level structure atop a 494-foot concrete column 66 feet in diameter at the base and 33 feet in diameter at the top. A steel antenna bearing a giant cross would rise 176 feet above the TV studio’s roof.
Patrons would arrive at a visitors center and museum at the base of the tower and ride two high-speed elevators that would whisk them to the upper levels in about a minute.
“Beneath the television studios, at the 517-foot level, there will be an observation deck encircling the tower,” the cathedral explained in a color brochure. “From this vantage point, all of Northeastern Ohio will unfold to the gaze of tower visitors.
“Below the observation deck, at the 504-foot level, will be one of the world’s most spectacular restaurants. The dining room will combine outstanding meals with breathtaking, panoramic views as the entire restaurant rotates at a rate of one complete revolution each hour and a half.”
There were a few early setbacks. Country radio station WSLR filed an injunction to stop the construction, fearing that the structure would interfere with the station’s signal, but the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit.
Some neighbors looked at the plans and recoiled. They didn’t want anyone peeping down into their homes from 500 feet above and they feared that the tower would be an eyesore.
The Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communications Commission gave their blessing, though, and the Northampton Township Board of Zoning Appeals followed suit.
“We hope to have the concrete poured before cold weather sets in,” Humbard announced.
In early November, the M.W. Kellogg Construction Co. began pouring concrete in three shifts 24 hours a day. The job required 19 million pounds of concrete and 500,000 pounds of steel reinforcing rods.
Workers emptied one cement truck every hour as the tower climbed more than 20 feet a day. In 22 days, it had reached 494 feet.
On Nov. 28, Humbard and his wife, Maude Aimee, a gospel singer, rode in an elevator to the top of the work platform as the construction crew celebrated its final pour.
“Cancel my insurance,” a jubilant Humbard joked while looking down into the hollow tower. “When I go, I want everybody to be sad.”
Nobody realized that the tower had reached its peak. Over the next few months, Humbard’s ministry would suffer a devastating financial calamity.
The Ohio Commerce Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused the ministry of selling unregistered securities to members of its congregation. The Cathedral of Tomorrow had to sell off most of its assets to pay back $12 million in unsecured bonds.
Six weeks after the tower work halted, Humbard tried to arrange financing with the Northern Ohio Bank of Cleveland.
“We’re now in the process of getting bids for the rest of the work,” he noted in February 1972. “Rather than contracting the work ourselves, the way we started the job, we’re going to get definite contracts from each firm that will work on the tower.”
In 1973, Humbard scaled back his plans, announcing that the tower would house a museum, library and prayer center instead of a restaurant and TV studio.
Five years later, with no construction on the horizon, he was still hopeful.
“Someday we’ll finish it, and it’ll be a landmark — a tourist attraction,” Humbard said in 1978.
Naysayers cracked jokes about the unfinished structure and gave it vulgar nicknames. Some residents complained that the tower was ugly and should be torn down. Community officials were powerless to intervene.
WCOT-TV never did go on the air. Humbard sold his television complex to Ernest Angley Ministries, whose renamed station, WBNX, premiered in 1985 on Channel 55.
In 1994, Humbard sold the Cathedral of Tomorrow for $2.5 million to Angley’s ministry.
Fetching far less was the much-maligned Cathedral Tower, which Cuyahoga Falls businessman Mike Krieger bought at a sheriff’s sale for $30,000 in 1989.
The former national landmark is now being used as a cell phone tower.
In a manner of speaking, it did find a higher calling.
Mark J. Price is a Beacon Journal copy editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.