Wayfarers Chapel, a historic monument in Rancho Palos Verdes, turns 70 – Daily Breeze
The Travelers’ Chapel is a landmark of Rancho Palos Verdes with both spiritual and historical significance.
And he has the curriculum vitae to prove it:
A national memorial to the 18th century founder of a new Christian church. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son. A national historic site. A place of pilgrimage for many engaged couples from all over the world.
And this year, the chapel reached a milestone that underscores the church’s enduring spiritual and historical legacy: its platinum anniversary. The Travelers’ Chapel on Friday July 16 will also quietly mark the 72nd anniversary of its inauguration, which took place two years before the church opened.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, prevented the iconic institution – dubbed by some “the glass church” and the “tree chapel” – from celebrating its 70th anniversary in May. And while there are no plans for a cornerstone ceremony on Friday or, for now, a public birthday party, the importance of the milestones has not escaped church officials.
Wayfarers executive director Dan Burchett in an email Wednesday, July 14, marveled at the church’s long history, which predates the laying of the cornerstone by decades.
Elizabeth Schellenberg, a member of the Swedenborgian Church, proposed the concept of building a church on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the 1920s, at a time when the hill – where she lived – was still largely open farmland, according to the story of the Wayfarers Chapel on its website. American suffragist Narcissa Cox Vanderlip, wife of bank tycoon and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Frank A. Vanderlip, donated 3.5 acres of land for the church in the 1930s.
The founders of the church celebrated the cornerstone dedication on July 16, 1949.
“Would they ever have imagined,” Burchett reflected in his email, “the sacred space that travelers would become for thousands of travelers over the years?
Beliefs of Wayfarers Chapel
The Swedenborgian Church – also known as the New Church – is relatively young, when it comes to Christian denominations.
Its origins date back to the mid-18th century, when church philosopher, scientist and reformer Emanuel Swedenborg began detailing “The Heavenly Doctrine” through a series of theological works after having what he called a revelation. of Jesus to do it.
Swedenborg, according to the historical material from Wayfarers, examined the “relationship between body and soul, an attempt to discover the nature of the spiritual being residing in the human personality”.
The reformer, who at one point faced heresy trial in his native Sweden because of his writings, died in 1772.
Then, about 15 years later, some of his followers founded a small church in London. The first church on this continent was formed in Baltimore in 1792, less than a decade after the American Revolution.
Today, the Swedenborgian Church remains relatively small compared to other Christian denominations, but has congregations all over the world.
The beliefs of the church are also inherently welcoming, with anyone who leads a good life – regardless of religion – allowed into heaven, according to the New Church’s website.
Wayfarers Chapel follows this principle of openness and in some ways surpasses its peers.
The chapel, in fact, describes itself as “open and assertive,” declaring on its website that it offers “equal blessing and support to all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, d national origin, religion or chosen spiritual path. “
Wayfarers, said Burchett, is not evangelical or fundamental. He doesn’t allow memberships or doesn’t have a board of directors because he doesn’t want to exclude people, he said, which is different from other congregations in the denomination.
A traveler, after all, is a traveler.
“It was designed with the idea that people can come,” said Burchett, and “have a place to grow and evolve spiritually”.
Building the church – and its suites
The Rev. Leonard Tafel dedicated the Wayfarers Chapel, 5755 Palos Verdes Drive South, on May 13, 1951.
Lloyd Wright, the son of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the chapel.
And thanks to its architectural prowess, the chapel quickly distinguished itself with its captivating design.
The general shape is somewhat prosaic, resembling a classic farmhouse barn. But it’s not red, it’s clear.
The frame of the chapel is made of wood and the sides and the ceiling are made of glass. The interior and the grounds have been developed over the years.
A stone portico leads to the chapel. The expansive grounds are covered in lush grasses and trees, including pines and redwoods surrounding the chapel itself.
Next to the chapel stands the “hallelujah tower”, which is part of the original design but was not completed until December 1954, according to historical documents. A 16-bell carillon – common in Europe but relatively rare in American churches – was installed in December 1978. (Christ Cathedral in Orange County also has a carillon, which is essentially an organ that uses bells instead of pipes.)
The chapel, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, has been renowned for years for its beauty and the openness of the church.
At its peak, the Wayfarers hosted as many as 850 weddings in a year, Burchett said, and averaged 450 to 600 a year. Some of these weddings have involved celebrities, including actress Jayne Mansfield, Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson, and Oscar nominee Dennis Hopper.
The chapel has also served as the backdrop for music, television and film shoots, including “The Rockford Files” in 1975 and the a cappella group Pentatonix’s “Amazing Grace” music video last year.
And in 2005, the chapel landed on the US National Register of Historic Places.
The chapel, however, also faces challenges – the kind to be expected for a church that is five years past retirement age.
Church officials, Burchett said, estimated it would take more than $ 7 million to complete the restoration efforts. Glass, steel mullions and laminate beams are among the parts of the church that need to be restored. And in order to do that, the chapel will need to follow the advice of the California Coastal Commission and various state and local agencies that oversee historic structures, Burchett said.
“We just have to renovate the whole structure,” said Burchett. “It’s going to be expensive.”
However, renovations could take a few years, with the chapel experiencing fundraising delays, in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The chapel had just hired a fundraising company last year when the pandemic hit hard.
Burchett could not give an exact total, but said the congregation collected “well below what we need.”
“We were preparing to go public with the need for restoration,” said Burchett. “We’ve put this all on hold and I don’t know when it’s going to start again.”
Yet the Chapel of the Wayfarers stands tall.
“Wayfarers Chapel remains today,” Burchett wrote in his email, “an iconic statement of progressive architecture and regenerative life for all. “
And two months after her platinum anniversary – and on the eve of her Cornerstone anniversary – there’s no reason to believe that will change in the decades to come.