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Weddings at SoCal's glass chapel cost $6K. But there's not enough cash to save it

Grace Toohey, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Lifestyles

LOS ANGELES — In the last year, the Instagram-famous Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes has held an estimated 400 weddings in the glass-walled structure overlooking the ocean, costing each couple $5,400 — and more if they scheduled their nuptials on a weekend or opted for the floral or candle add-ons.

But despite its steep fees, the popular wedding venue is facing a growing financial crisis. The accelerating landslide complex on which it sits is cracking, crushing and threatening the entire property, forcing its indefinite closure, while much-needed restoration work has fallen by the wayside.

"As of right now we have zero income coming in and we don't for the foreseeable future," said the Rev. David Brown, the chapel's minister. "What we are trying to assemble is some path forward to reopen the grounds. ... We're in a very challenging situation."

The reverend in February launched an appeal for donations on GoFundMe to try to raise money that can be used to stabilize the area and, ideally, help with the long-term needs of the aging chapel. It had raised almost $50,000 as of Thursday, but Brown said the latest estimates for restoration could cost $10 million to $20 million — and that's only once the landslide is stabilized.

"We don't know how long the landslide and the movement is going to continue," Brown said. Though city officials did not yet deem the chapel and its grounds unsafe to enter, the escalating damage led the chapel to voluntarily close last month.

In the last two weeks, the chapel's nonprofit operators have issued dozens of refunds to couples who had weddings booked, totaling about $1.5 million, Brown said.

 

But the landslide only exacerbated issues facing the chapel. The salty air around the church, built in 1951, has proved corrosive, and decades of wear-and-tear have taken a toll. In December, Brown estimated the necessary restoration would cost $8 million, far beyond the nonprofit's means, even with hundreds of weddings a year.

He said a price increase after the COVID-19 pandemic began to help the venue — "for a hot second" — accumulate money for the needed capital improvement project.

But now, all that momentum has reversed.

"One day to the next, you see how fast the land is moving," Brown said. "Unfortunately it took us closing down and the damage to an iconic national historic landmark to … get the awareness raised."

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