Wayfarers Chapel, jolted by shifting land, will be fully dismantled by Monday

By Monday, June 24, the 16 beams that have held up the historic Wayfarers Chapel for seven decades will be on a pallet headed for an off-site, outdoor storage facility.

The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed, National Historic Landmark — site to thousands of weddings and the sanctuary for nature and spiritual worshippers — will no longer rise above the Pacific in a grove of stone pine trees.

After closing to the public in February due land movement, the Rancho Palos Verdes icon’s dismantling will be complete, with the focus now turning to preservation and rebuilding.

For Wayfarers Executive Director Dan Burchett, the months-long process has been like a death.

“This thing that represents harmony and union with nature on a spiritual path has just been decimated,” Burchett said, in an interview on June 20. “It’s all going to be gone.”

All the glass has been removed and workers are now taking down the 16 redwood beams that comprise the iconic Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The beams will be stored the same way they existed for decades — outside. The National Historic Landmark was closed in Feb. due to land movement on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photos courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

All the glass has been removed and workers are now taking down the 16 redwood beams that comprise the iconic Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The beams will be stored the same way they existed for decades — outside. The National Historic Landmark was closed in Feb. due to land movement on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photos courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

All the glass has been removed and workers are now taking down the 16 redwood beams that comprise the iconic Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The beams will be stored the same way they existed for decades — outside. The National Historic Landmark was closed in Feb. due to land movement on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photos courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

All the glass has been removed and workers are now taking down the 16 redwood beams that comprise the iconic Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The beams will be stored the same way they existed for decades — outside. The National Historic Landmark was closed in Feb. due to land movement on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photos courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

All the glass has been removed and workers are now taking down the 16 redwood beams that comprise the iconic Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The beams will be stored the same way they existed for decades — outside. The National Historic Landmark was closed in Feb. due to land movement on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photos courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

All the glass has been removed and workers are now taking down the 16 redwood beams that comprise the iconic Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The beams will be stored the same way they existed for decades — outside. The National Historic Landmark was closed in Feb. due to land movement on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photos courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

All the glass has been removed and workers are now taking down the 16 redwood beams that comprise the iconic Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The beams will be stored the same way they existed for decades — outside. The National Historic Landmark was closed in Feb. due to land movement on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photos courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

All the glass has been removed and workers are now taking down the 16 redwood beams that comprise the iconic Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The beams will be stored the same way they existed for decades — outside. The National Historic Landmark was closed in Feb. due to land movement on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photos courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

All the glass has been removed and workers are now taking down the 16 redwood beams that comprise the iconic Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes. The beams will be stored the same way they existed for decades — outside. The National Historic Landmark was closed in Feb. due to land movement on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Photos courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

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The closing and dismantling of Wayfarers has been a significant loss for the Palos Verdes Peninsula which has been dealing with what geologists call unprecedented, daily land movement in the Portuguese Bend Landslide Complex.

The land on the verdant Peninsula is moving at a rate of up to 12 inches per week in some areas. Winter rainstorms have only made matters worse over the last two years. Major roadways have buckled. The area’s lush, popular hiking trails are off limits.

Wayfarers sits on 3.5 acres of the larger 240-acre landslide complex and is west and many miles downstream of groundwater that runs beneath the soil, causing the surface to crack, dip and undulate. The entirety of that area of the peninsula, said city geologist in an earlier interview, is slowly marching towards the ocean.

Since February, Burchett visits the chapel site about three-times-per week, he said. And each time, the enormity of the situation is always shocking.

Only now, Burchett said, “I feel like I’m not dreaming any longer. It’s real.”

“In a matter of weeks,” said Burchett, “the land will be completely cleared and we’ll be future focused.”

For Burchett and the 10-member Wayfarers board of directors, everything has drastically changed.

Leadership has gone from managing a profit center as a sought-after wedding venue to spearheading a massive fundraising campaign.

To reconstruct the chapel, they need at least $20 million. And that doesn’t figure in land costs or the loss of income Wayfarers incurred after returning to couples $1.2 million in wedding reservation fees.

If it had been a wildfire that damaged the chapel, said Burchett, insurance would have covered losses.

To raise the funds needed to rebuild Wayfarers, the chapel’s leaders are looking to the community and, potentially, grants.

So far, online fundraising has garnered about $75,000. Over the next several weeks, the Wayfarers board will be interviewing candidates for a public relations/fundraising professional as their priorities shift from dismantling to rebuilding.

Wayfarers leadership is looking for community support in both small ways and big ways, said Burchett.

“Many hands make light work,” he said. “Everyone who loves Wayfarers, if we all are able to pitch in, we’re certain we’ll get this done eventually.”

And Burchett added although he’s had offers of land far afield from the peninsula, it was never the board’s intention to leave.

“The priority is to stay here,” he said, adding that securing property with a similar gestalt – tree groves and an ocean view, but not in a landslide area – will be a challenge.

Wayfarers, after all, was designed to be a place of “reunion with nature” so that “everyone and anyone could come commune with nature,” Burchett said.

The irony of the chapel being decimated by the very thing it was designed to revere was not lost on him.

“If you decided you were going to ruin the chapel,” he said, “you couldn’t have chosen a better thing than a landslide.”

In addition to cataloging the Wayfarers beams, Walk of Honor stones and other structural elements and storing them on leased, city-owned land about four miles away, there’s another way leaders hope to keep the chapel founders’ call to nature alive.

About 18 of the 30 bushes from the property’s Rose Garden were dug up, plopped into containers and loaned to regular worshippers, said Burchett. The idea is for people to replant them at home, and hopefully, one day, bring them back to Wayfarers’ new location.

Keeping finicky roses alive will be a challenge, according to the chapel’s landscaper, said Burchett.

But, similar to the challenge of resurrecting the chapel itself one day, the executive director has hope.

“We are determined to rebuild,” Burchett said. “We will be like a phoenix. We will rise from the ashes.”

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