woman standing near green leafed plants

Rapidly Accelerating Landslide Forces Closure and Dismantling of Iconic Wayfarers Chapel

A decades-old landslide that has recently accelerated dramatically has necessitated the dismantling of Wayfarers Chapel, an iconic Southern California church designed by Lloyd Wright, son of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The chapel, celebrated for its integration with nature, sits among towering redwoods with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

The land beneath the chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes is shifting at an unprecedented rate of more than 2 feet per month. Once intended to honor the natural world, the chapel is now being destroyed by it.

“It’s actually dangerous to even walk on the grounds now because everything is breaking,” said Rev. Dan Burchett, the chapel’s executive director, in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. “Nature, in one sense, is showing her power.”

Lloyd Wright, who also contributed to the design of the Hollywood Bowl in 1927, designed the chapel. Known as “The Glass Church,” it opened to the public in 1951 and embodies the principles of “organic architecture,” aiming to harmonize structures with their natural surroundings.

“The transparency of the glass would usher you into a place of nature that the structure would disappear in,” said Burchett, who has also served as a chapel officiant since 2000.

The picturesque location on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, popular for films and weddings, has ironically contributed to its current peril. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in December 2023, the chapel was closed just two months later due to the worsening effects of the 1956 Portuguese Bend landslide, part of a larger ancient landslide complex in the area.

The chapel has sustained significant damage, including a large crack in the 1949 cornerstone, a buckling asphalt parking lot, fractured 15-foot glass panels, and twisted metal framing in its ceiling and walls.

Crews hurried to disassemble the chapel this week to preserve the original materials—many of which are irreplaceable—for potential reconstruction, either at the current site if it can be stabilized or elsewhere nearby.

Reconstruction is estimated to take four years and cost at least $20 million, excluding the cost of a new plot of land in this expensive area. The church had been raising funds for a $10 million restoration planned for 2025 but now must double its efforts.

“These are hard days; these are days to grieve, no doubt,” Burchett said. “But we will celebrate again, we are sure of that.”

The chapel, part of the Swedenborgian denomination, reflects the teachings of 18th-century Swedish scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, promoting a religion that interconnects all aspects of life and allows for reasoned questioning of life’s deepest religious issues.

As a national monument to Swedenborg, the chapel hosted regular worship services for all wayfarers—“all who come, no matter their faith or status”—until the landslide forced them to relocate to a nearby Episcopal church earlier this year.

“We don’t exclude anyone, even if the person says they’re an atheist and they don’t believe in God but they want to join with nature and have some spiritual experience, they are welcome to do that with the chapel,” Burchett said.

Located about 25 miles from Hollywood, the chapel has featured in movies, TV shows, and music videos, such as “Beverly Hills 90210,” “The O.C.,” “True Detective,” and the 1987 sci-fi comedy “Innerspace.”

It has also been the site of many celebrity weddings. Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys founder who composed the hit song “Good Vibrations,” married his wife, Melinda, there in 1995.

“The vibrations in that chapel were so wonderful,” Wilson reportedly said.

Nancy and Randy Erwin exchanged their vows there in 1987. Now residing in Oregon, they visited Southern California family this week and stopped on Thursday for one last look on their way back north.

“It’s a landmark in our lives,” Randy Erwin said.

Based on article found: insurancejournal.com