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Why Wayfarers Chapel, California's architectural icon, is being forced to move


The Wayfarers Chapel in Southern California is an architectural icon. The Glass Church, as its nickname, perches atop a peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But it's been closed since February, and now crews are taking it apart for relocation because the land it sits on is crumbling. LAist reporter Yusra Farzan takes us inside the disassembly process.

YUSRA FARZAN, BYLINE: On a recent morning in Rancho Palos Verdes, south of LA, workers are power-washing tiles they've just removed from the roof of a walkway that leads to the Wayfarers Chapel. The chapel is a masterpiece of organic architecture, glass and redwood beams seamlessly blending into a redwood grove with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. It stood here for 73 years and was recently designated a national historic landmark.

MEGAN TURNER: So we had to put together a hand-picked team of specialists who could really disassemble this with equipment and machinery and techniques that are done for historic-type building.

FARZAN: That's Megan Turner with the project management firm coordinating the deconstruction of the chapel. She says workers have to unscrew by hand each screw that holds up the beams, so they don't get damaged. They use special tools to cut out the window pane so as not to harm the glass. Katie Horak works for an architectural firm that's making sure the chapel is moved in a way that preserves its historic status. At a recent press conference, she said there's extensive cataloguing to make sure each piece is accounted for.

KATIE HORAK: Working with a 3D model of the building, our team will label each component part as it is disassembled so it can be put back together again exactly as it was constructed in the same configuration.

FARZAN: The land underneath the chapel is moving 7 inches a week according to city and chapel officials. So this work is urgent. Megan Turner says a process like this usually takes three to six months, but they're trying to do it in four weeks. They hope to be done by the second week of June. They're still not sure where they're going to rebuild. Because of the land movement, Turner says it's unlikely the chapel will be rebuilt in the landslide area. She says it will probably be reconstructed somewhere else on the peninsula. For congregants, this news has been a heavy blow, especially since it's happening so fast.

ARNOLD STRONG: It does make you feel very crestfallen, very heartbroken.

FARZAN: Arnold Strong got married at the Wayfarers Chapel five years ago and attends services there.

STRONG: I mean, that is a place that I would go just to meditate.

FARZAN: The chapel's lead minister, Reverend David Brown, still hopes the land the chapel currently stands on can be fixed, even though that's unlikely. Brown says the landscape around the chapel has been a huge part of what has made services there feel so special - hearing the ocean, looking at the redwood trees through the skylight, listening to two red-tailed hawks who sometimes upstage his sermons.

DAVID BROWN: Sometimes they would sit in a tree or a hummingbird would be inside - you know, just all these things would take place in that space that really are hard to replicate in other spaces.

FARZAN: But Brown has been reminding his congregants...

BROWN: We're still together as a community, and that part remains intact.

FARZAN: They're continuing to hold services at a nearby church. Once the chapel has been fully removed, a team, including architectural experts, city officials, and chapel leaders will start figuring out its next home.

For NPR News, I'm Yusra Farzan in Rancho Palos Verdes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Yusra Farzan
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