In California, Wayfarers Chapel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, temporarily closes amid landslide concerns

Beyond its function as a church, Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes serves as a coveted wedding venue, film and television backdrop, and Instagram-worthy pilgrimage site. Last week, administrators from the all-glass edifice designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright, announced it is temporarily closing to visitors because of landslides and land movement in the area.

A statement shared on the chapel’s website on February 15 said “Effective immediately, we are extremely devastated to announce the closure of Wayfarers Chapel and its surrounding property due to the accelerated land movement in our local area.”

The ecclesiastical space embodies the Swedenborgian concept of “The Natural Church.” It was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in December. Wayfarers Chapel’s location perched on the Palos Verdes Peninsula affords the small church with expansive views out toward the ocean.

However, it’s this position, on a landslide complex referred to as the Portuguese Bend, that puts the structure and its property dotted with redwoods at risk of destruction by land movement. When a landslide strikes, slowly over time, it is capable of moving ground in all directions—sinking and shifting it inches or even feet. As was the case with the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the geological phenomena can be dormant for years before reactivating.

Concerns for the property have been top of mind since last summer. In July, cracks were found in the glass of the chapel and inclement, rainy weather this winter has posed a risk to much of the surrounding area, where streets are heaved and cracking and have been subsequently closed off. Geologists have called this latest spell “unprecedented.”

A statement shared by the City of Palos Verdes on February 15 said the City had been in contact with Wayfarers Chapel “over the past several months” regarding land movement. It went on to say that the chapel requested an inspection from the City’s Building Official. This yielded some observed damage, but according to the city, no structures were “yellow- or red-tagged.”

On February 14, Wayfarers Chapel informed the city of its “voluntary decision” to shutter the property to visitors, guests, and weddings. During this closure, the chapel plans to make repairs.

A previous landslide at the site in the 1970s destroyed the chapel’s visitor center. In 1998 the city approved a plan to rebuild a one-story, 2,000-square-foot structure on the property that acts as the entry point for ogling visitors, along with a library, and multipurpose room.

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