175 weddings and special events canceled after Wayfarers Chapel closure, officials say

Officials said the chapel could stay closed for at least 2 years

David González Image
Saturday, February 17, 2024
175 weddings, special events canceled due to Wayfarers Chapel closure
The historic Wayfarers Chapel is expected to remain closed for at least two years as solutions are pursued to counter shifting land in the area.

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. (KABC) -- More than 100 weddings and other special events had to be canceled after Wayfarers Chapel, a scenic wedding spot that was recently designated a National Historic Landmark, announced its indefinite closure due to ground movement in the area.

The closure comes after recent heavy rains left Southern California hillsides oversaturated, leading to landslides and mudflows throughout the region.

During a Friday morning news conference, Rev. Dan Burchett, executive director of the chapel, said 175 events between now and October 2025 had to be canceled.

"Our hearts go out to them and we are doing everything that we can to support them in possible venue alternatives," he said. "Our event staff is helping with that information. It is not possible to express the degree of our sadness over this situation, but it is completely beyond our control."

Officials said refunds will be offered to those impacted by the closure. They're also looking into offering alternatives, like outdoor weddings and other outdoor services.

Several homes were damaged last year in nearby parts of Rancho Palos Verdes.

"We'll rebuild from this obviously," one Rancho Palos Verdes resident said. "Everybody will rebuild from this, but we do need to make it stop moving."

Burchett said water has been flowing down from the hills above the chapel, causing asphalt to surge in ways they have never seen before. He said the chapel's administration offices are looking to relocate as soon as Tuesday.

"Even though it's the newest structure built in 2000, it is also suffering the impact and the effects of land movement, and it's not going to be safe to inhabit much longer," he said.

Burchett said they're also working with the city of Rancho Palos Verdes to get permits to install a French drain system on the property that would help reduce the soil saturation. The Rancho Palos Verdes City Council is also considering asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency in the city. City leaders believe that would open up state or emergency funding to help speed up the process.

Meanwhile, Rev. Dr. David Brown, the chapel's minister, is also working to figure out ways to continue its church services.

"While we're not going to be open this Sunday, we are going to be looking at plans," he said. "We are looking as the spring time temperatures increase, we're looking to move to be able to worship outdoors. We're figuring out how to continue to have this sacred grounds open to the community that's been worshipping here over the years."

Burchett said it's unknown how long the chapel will be closed but estimates it could be up to two years.

"No one could have seen this coming"

When Nicole Elenbaas got engaged to the love of her life Ricky Silvas, she immediately knew she wanted to say "I do" at Wayfarers Chapel.

"There was nowhere else I was even looking," she said. "This was where it was going to be."

Elenbaas found out about the chapel from her mother Debra, who wanted to get married at the venue herself, but never got a chance. Sadly, Debra passed away in 2020. Elenbaas said getting married at Wayfarers Chapel was a way to honor her mother's memory.

"It just makes the situation just a little bit more difficult," she said. "I wasn't able to fulfill the promise that I was hoping to give to her."

The couple's wedding - which was set for April 27 - is now in limbo.

"No one could have seen this coming, and I don't blame anybody for it. It's just a really unfortunate situation for all the brides out there that are set to get married there."

However, with a just over two months until her wedding, brides like Elenbaas hope to find a good alternative to hold their ceremonies.

"Fingers crossed," she said. "Hopefully, we're still game for April, so I'm really hopeful for that."

The significance of Wayfarers Chapel

Wayfarers Chapel was designed by Lloyd Wright, son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and opened in 1951 on a scenic hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is known as a popular site for weddings and a filming location.

Two months ago, it was added to the register of National Historic Landmarks, with federal officials describing it as "an exceptional example of modern organic ecclesiastical architecture."

Wayfarers Chapel nominated as National Historic Landmark

Wayfarers Chapel has been nominated as a National Historic Landmark.

"The decision to close Wayfarers Chapel for public safety is the right one, but it is still devastating news and another reminder of the seriousness of this land movement," County Supervisor Janice Hahn said. "Wayfarers Chapel is one of the more beautiful chapels in the country if not the world and we all have treasured memories there."

The chapel has created a GoFundMe page to help pay for structural renovations. There is also a donation link on its main website.

Last summer, at least two homes in Rancho Palos Verdes and another dozen in nearby Rolling Hills Estates were red-tagged because of land movement. Residents said underground waterline breaks contributed to the problem, on top of the heavy rainfall from last winter.