Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wayfarers’ Chapel In California Will Be Dismantled

Today, representatives for Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verde, California, announced plans to disassemble the 1951 ecclesiastical structure by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright. Local firm Architectural Resources Group will lead this restoration effort with input from the National Park Service, given the site’s landmark designation. Several of the chapel’s adjacent facilities will also be removed to curtail further damage.

At Wayfarers Chapel, glass panels have continued to shatter and cracks in the concrete floor have elongated and thickened. The famous church announced in February the chapel would temporarily close its doors and verdant property to visitors due to unprecedented landslides and land movement in the area.

uneven roadway from landslide
The landslide complex referred to as the Portuguese Bend has been moving for decades and recently at an increased rate. (©Henrik Kam)

As for where the church will be relocated, that still remains to be seen. Should the site stabilize, chapel officials said the church could be resited at its home, if not “the land could join with outer parks land, for use with nature trails.” Redwood trees across the site marry the landscape and architecture. While not the original arboreal glories on the property, the trees forming the grove sited there today are also part of the restoration purview and they too will be preserved “as best as possible.”

As previously reported by AN the church’s location atop the Palos Verdes Peninsula affords views out toward the blue sea, but with this location also comes proximity to a landslide complex referred to as the Portuguese Bend. According to GPS surveys by the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, the land beneath the church’s site has been moving at a rate of 2 feet or more each month and appears to be accelerating.

aerial view of site with bell tower shooting up
While the bell tower has not suffered damage it will be disassembled and rebuilt. (©Henrik Kam)

The decision to deconstruct Wayfarers Chapel was decided only after other means were exhausted or deemed not feasible. Other options explored involved anchoring the chapel to the ground with concrete columns. Land movement has “torqued” the super structure held together by eight redwood arches and metal framing. This distortion of the chapel’s primary support system caused the glass panels to crack, even after an effort to install a protective safety film.

Disassembly will allow as much of the main structure to be preserved as possible, this is especially important given that a number of the materials used to construct the chapel are no longer available.

Wayfarers Chapel broken glass
Glass panels across the structure are cracking from the destabilizing structure. (©Henrik Kam)

“So many of the chapel’s original materials that were part of the Lloyd Wright design cannot be replicated today: the old growth redwood glulam, the blue roof tiles, the elegant network of steel that holds the windows together. With each passing day, more of this material is lost or irreparably damaged,” said Katie Horak, principal of Architectural Resources Group. “Our team is working against the clock to document and move these building components to safety so that they can be put back together again.”

top of chapel
Several of the original buildings, including the blue tiles, are longer manufactured. (©Henrik Kam)

Before the deconstruction begins Architectural Resources Group will develop a 3D model of Wayfarers Chapel that will serve as a record and reference for the existing conditions. According to the chapel, the most vulnerable components will be removed first. All materials and built elements will be “carefully labeled, photographed, and cataloged.”

forested entry to chapel
The redwood trees on the property will likely also be preserved. (©Henrik Kam)

The total cost for the entire project is $20 million, with the site closure and deconstruction work estimated to cost between $300,000 and $500,000. Wayfarers Chapel said it is planning to raise funds from community contributions.

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