Venerable L.A. church dome at risk of collapse

Noah Goldberg, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Lifestyles

LOS ANGELES -- When Pastor Frank Wulf thinks about his congregation being unable to worship in their home of 100 years, he is reminded of the Old Testament scripture of the Israelites in exile.

Wulf's church, Echo Park United Methodist Church on North Alvarado Street and Reservoir Street in northeast Los Angeles, is not currently safe for occupation. The century-old dome over the church's bell tower was damaged by the recent atmospheric rivers that pounded California, and structural engineers say it could topple into the church and lead to a snowball effect of collapses that could injure people inside the structure.

But just as the Israelites did when the Persians let them back into the land of Israel, Wulf says they will rebuild.

"The church is really not a building but a community of people, a community that's cared for each other over a long period of time," Wulf said.

Wulf's congregation has been out of its historic home since Feb. 1, the pastor said.

That came after the first pounding storm of the season led to the partial collapse of the tower, exposing the wood that holds up the golden dome.

The wood had badly deteriorated: There was dry rot, termites and water damage.

The first structural engineer who inspected the building told Wulf and his team that the church was not a safe place for groups to congregate.


The evacuation of the building affects not just the 40 or 45 people who attend Sunday services, but also the others in the community whom the church serves.

Wulf said services for homeless Angelenos, such as showers outside the building and free food, have had to be paused.

He also had to inform the 12-step groups for people struggling with alcoholism or other substance use disorders that they could not meet at the church, at least for now.

The church had been building temporary shelter for migrants bused to Los Angeles from Texas. It was supposed to welcome four families to live in the space in mid-February, but it had to halt that program as well.

"Our primary commitment is to keep everyone safe," the church team said in a statement on a GoFundMe page they posted to raise money for the work needed to reopen.

Wulf has not decided yet if they will repair the century-old building.

"Would this be the appropriate time to perhaps take the whole building down and start from scratch?" he asked.

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