A Marriage of Perfection : 500,000 Visitors Drawn Yearly to Seaside Wayfarers Chapel


It’s a perfect marriage of function and form, the way the small glass building perched on the ocean cliff manages to be both serene and spectacular.

And it was the perfect place to get married, Diane Jones of Annapolis, Md., and Harold Grossnickle of Clearwater, Fla., agreed when they arrived at the Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes.

“We wanted to be married in a place that was both intimate and inspiring,” explained the bride. “We wanted a place that our children, if we have any, can come back to,” added the groom.

Dappled sunlight cascaded gently into the chapel through its glass roof one afternoon last week as the couple’s wedding guests filed in for their ceremony.


A sea breeze rustled the lush woodsia ferns and philodendron planted along the sanctuary’s interior walls and flickered the candles that lined the ivy-topped stone altar. The strains of a Mozart minuet played by a string quartet echoed softly from the back of the room.

Opened in 1951 as a place for travelers to rest and meditate, the Wayfarers Chapel has become a Los Angeles landmark that now attracts 500,000 visitors a year. Along the way, it has also earned a reputation as the busiest matrimonial center this side of Las Vegas.

More than 750 couples--including 100 from Japan--last year marched down the aisle built from polished, chalk-white Palos Verdes stone.

The weddings are a nice blending of form and function for Wayfarers Chapel, too, according to its operators.

Each newlywed couple is asked to make an $825 contribution ($975 for weekend ceremonies) that is used to pay for chapel maintenance. The fee also helps finance continuing repair work to the 3 1/2-acre grounds that were damaged from a 1979 landslide at nearby Abalone Cove.

The 100-seat chapel is operated by the Swedenborgian Church, a small, 203-year-old Christian denomination whose followers have included Helen Keller, Ralph Waldo Emerson and John (Johnny Appleseed) Chapman.


The sanctuary was designed by Lloyd Wright, son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His choice of rough local stone and redwood beams to hold up a fragile skin of glass was seen as daring when the $80,000 project was started in 1949.

Wright personally selected the coastal redwoods, Cypress lelandi and Monterey pines that were planted outside the chapel. The trees were placed on bermed earth supported by stone retaining walls that form part of the sanctuary’s interior.

“I want the trees and their trunks to be seen,” explained Wright, who died in 1978 at age 88. “The trees, the natural growth, the sky and the sea become part of the chapel. The glass provides protection, but at the same time gives the congregation a sense of outer as well as inner space.”

Rev. Harvey A. Tafel, who has directed the chapel since 1972, said the unusual open chapel design “sets off some responding chord” that evokes peace in visitors. “People call it the ‘glass church,’ but it’s really a tree chapel,” he said.

Said Marcy Sudock, a Long Beach violinist who has played at hundreds of Wayfarers weddings: “This is one of the few places where people aren’t tense at weddings. You’re in touch with nature here. You have trees and sky to look at, not just walls and statuary.”

Wedding photographer Ron Wiener of Torrance has chronicled more than 1,000 marriage ceremonies at the chapel. “Each day is a little different. The weather and the light change. It’s a photographer’s paradise--it’s hard to take a bad picture,” he explained.


After the Rev. Carl Yenetchi pronounced the Grossnickles man and wife, Wiener posed them on the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Santa Catalina Island.

The bride said she selected Wayfarers Chapel after her father, Anaheim resident Bob Jones, made a videotape of the grounds and mailed it to her.

“This is gorgeous,” agreed the groom’s twin sister, Carol Miller of Ankeny, Iowa. “It sure is different from home.”

A few steps away, Wayfarers worker Charlie Kissel stood guard next to a sign warning visitors that the sanctuary was temporarily shut because of the nuptial ceremony.

One of those he turned away was tourist Emma King of Midland, Tex. “I’ve wanted to see this for years,” a disappointed King explained. “My husband has said if I never see anything else in Los Angeles, I should see this. I’m going to wait.”

Chapel wedding coordinator Kim Ericksen said visitors are urged to linger elsewhere on the shaded grounds during the 1 1/2 hours that the chapel is closed for each wedding.


“People always say they’ve driven 1,000 miles to see this and they’re on their way to the airport to leave,” Ericksen said. “But you don’t want tourists gawking in shorts and T-shirts when you’re getting married.”

As the Grossnickle wedding party drifted away, Kissel ushered the visitors in.

Carol Freele of Perth, Australia, was accompanied by cousins Mona and Larry Wilk of La Puente and their daughter, Colleen Keith of Hacienda Heights.

“One of our other cousins was married here,” Keith explained. “We have a big family--about 40 cousins--and we’ve had lots of weddings. The one here is the one that still stands out.”

Said Freele: “This has made a Southern California fan out of me.”