Restoration & Landslide FAQs

Wayfarers Chapel is a National Historic Landmark, designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (Lloyd Wright). Wayfarers Chapel began as a dream of Elizabeth Sewall Schellenberg, a member of the Swedenborgian Church who lived on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the late 1920s. The Peninsula was largely open farmland with a two-lane gravel road skirting the shoreline from San Pedro to Palos Verdes Estates. Mrs. Schellenberg dreamed of a small chapel of exquisite beauty and spiritual architecture on a hillside above the Pacific Ocean where wayfarers could stop to rest, meditate, and give thanks to God. Lloyd Wright, the son of the American architectural innovator Frank Lloyd Wright, created a design with an emphasis on harmony between God’s natural world and the inner world of mind and spirit. Wright’s Wayfarers Chapel was constructed in 1951 and has served as a home for the Wayfarers ever since.

Currently Wayfarers Chapel and the surrounding grounds of the property are closed due to the accelerated land movement in our local area. The Portuguese Bend landslide, though historic in nature, has activated in recent months and is dramatically impacting the Wayfarers Chapel campus.

Read our disassembly and restoration press release.

The landslide continues at a rapid pace. GPS surveys by the city of Rancho Palos Verdes shows this land movement by Wayfarers:

• Oct ‘21 to Oct ‘22: ~0.08” per week (or ~3” per year)

• Oct ‘22 to Oct ‘23: ~0.5” per week (or ~25” per year)

• Oct ’23 to Jan ’24: ~2.3” per week (or ~120” per year)

• Mar ’24 to Apr ’24 ~7” per week (or ~364” per year)

The earth under the chapel property and surrounding area is currently moving 2 feet or more a month. This is part of a historic landslide that has been occurring in the area for over 50 years.

The chapel itself is at risk for irrevocable damage if methods to save the chapel are not taken in the coming weeks. Currently the movement on the site is causing damage to the redwood structure, which will only be salvageable if no further damage occurs. In addition, metal framing in the walls and ceiling is torquing and bending; most of the glass panels have fractured; many doors are no longer operable; the concrete floor is heaving and cracking; even the cornerstone laid in 1949 has a long crack through it.

The entire campus is affected including the parking lot and ancillary structures. Most notably, services underground including electricity, water, sewer, and gas utilities are broken and currently unusable.

The team is committed to protecting and preserving the chapel as much as possible. In order to do that we have engaged the services of Architectural Resources Group (ARG), an architecture and planning firm that specializes in historic buildings to evaluate the chapel and develop recommendations for a resilient future.

The team is proposing a careful disassembly of the chapel, carefully cataloguing and documenting each piece, preserving as much of the chapel’s original materials as practicable within a rapid timeframe to prevent further, irreparable damage. Simultaneously, as the materials are documented and preserved, the team will evaluate options for reconstruction on this site or one nearby.

Disassembly is a method of cataloguing, documenting, and preserving historic structures that is used to save and preserve buildings that are in danger from environmental factors and are unable to be moved in one piece. In contrast to demolition where buildings are knocked down and materials are either landfilled or recycled, disassembly involves taking a building apart and carefully documenting each element, in order to reconstruct the building elsewhere. In the case of Wayfarers, disassembling the chapel now before it is destroyed by the landslide is essential to its preservation.

The leaders and staff at Rancho Palos Verdes (RPV) are supportive of the effort and understand the threat of destruction from the landslide. Going forward, our team is forging a partnership with the City to create a future for Wayfarers in RPV that shows the resilience of the city and local community in the face of the landslide disaster.

This team is committed to opening a rebuilt chapel as soon as feasibly and safely possible.

Currently many options are being explored. If the current property were to stabilize and the geologists are positive it is safe to do so, the site could be rebuilt upon. Realistically, the main part of the Portuguese Landslide complex started movement in 1956 and has never stopped moving and the movement in 2024 has been described by the city geologist as “unprecedented.” While the current site is monitored, the team is exploring other options for an ideal new site.
The current site is adjacent to open space preserve land. If the landslide continues to render this land unsuitable for building, the land could join with outer parks land, for use with nature trails.

Wayfarers is working with historic preservation experts, led by Architectural Resources Group (ARG), to carefully “deconstruct” (disassemble) the chapel to preserve as many materials as possible for a future rebuilding of the chapel. Deconstruction will start soon — to delay this step longer would cause damage to materials and structural elements that cannot be easily replaced.

To ensure accuracy for the future reconstruction of the building, the team is building a complete 3D digital model of the chapel. A phasing plan will be developed to ensure the most vulnerable parts of the building are removed from the site first and others are protected in the meantime. In addition, every piece of the chapel will be carefully labeled, photographed, and cataloged, to aid the future reassembly process.

At this time the deconstruction of the chapel building and the safe closing of the campus will cost the chapel between $300,000 and $500,000. Since the chapel is closed, the operations cannot fund these costs. To date, a GoFundMe page has raised $69,097. The team is asking the community to contribute to the deconstruction project’s goal of preserving and protecting Wayfarers by giving to this project at Wayfarers.

National Historic Landmarks are held to the highest standards, requiring careful protection of the integrity of the landmarked building. Wayfarers is working closely with historic preservation experts to establish best practices while relying on National Park Service guidance for our unique situation of an iconic landmark under threat due to extreme environmental conditions.

Environmental Questions

The current landslide, while affected by the last two Winters’ heavy rains, is not due to the rains. The city of Rancho Palos Verdes has a program of regular monitoring of the slide. These comprehensive surveys show that in the last two years the rate of movement has accelerated from 3” per year to 109” per year as of January 2024. The Portuguese Bend landslide that started in 1956 has never since stopped and has, in recent years, expanded in size to include the full campus of Wayfarers, including the chapel. The Portuguese Bend landslide complex is over one square mile in size and is the largest and fastest-moving landslide in the United States.
Consultation with various experts including skilled geotechnical engineers have considered all potential techniques, including “shear pins” (giant concrete columns reaching deep into the earth to bedrock). Unfortunately, it seems none of the available techniques are a viable solution for the chapel’s specific location.
At this time, all the buildings on the campus (with the exception of the bell tower) are a complete loss — that is, if the earth stopped moving, they could not be repaired, but would have to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with all-new foundations and in-ground utilities. For example, the newest building on the campus, the Visitor’s Center, built in 2000 to modern earthquake standards, is a total loss and was recently red tagged by the city of Rancho Palos Verdes.
Currently, the bell tower has no visible “lean” and no serious cracks, so the urgency of relocating it is not as serious as the rest of the chapel. We will prioritize disassembling the chapel building first and then study the relocation of the bell tower.
The chapel’s light and airy
construction is one of the reasons this iconic building is so beloved. The walls and roof consist of thin metal “mullions” holding glass panels. The entire structure is held erect by eight giant redwood arches, along with angular arches at the front and back. The slide has been slowly twisting and torquing the chapel super structure such that most of the large glass panels have broken (despite protective safety film being applied in January). In addition, the chapel’s floor is significantly cracked and heaved. We are racing against time to disassemble and safely remove the steel mullions and redwood arches before they are ruined to the point that they cannot be reused.
The chapel and its attached bride’s room, colonnade, and bell tower. These are the historic components of the chapel complex that are listed in the National Historic Landmark designation.
The chapel is surrounded by a grove of mature redwood trees, most if not all of which were planted in 1974, replacing the original redwood trees. The team is working to preserve these trees as best as possible.
Current estimates put the rebuilding effort at a cost of $20 million. Wayfarers had assembled $5 million in saved funds from past wedding services. These “restoration” savings will now be used for the rebuilding, giving us a big head start on raising the required $20 million. A community-based fundraising effort will begin this year.