Let There Be Light

Soon celebrating 60 years in the South Bay, Wayfarers Chapel is more than a monument, it’s a local treasure.

I wanted particularly to allow those trees and those trunks to be seen and the space beyond and into infinity to be observed, so those who sat in the sanctuary would perceive the grandeur of space out beyond and around them.” — Lloyd Wright, architect Back in the late 1920s, when the Peninsula was mostly farmland with a two-lane gravel road connecting the port hub of San Pedro with majestic Palos Verdes, Elizabeth Schellenberg, a member of the Swedenborgian Church, imagined a small chapel on the hillside overlooking the Pacific, a place for people to meditate on God and the wonder and beauty of creation in their midst. Her dream got a big boost with the help of a fellow church member, Narcissa Cox Vanderlip, and land donation that laid the stage for a future chapel. With construction plans interrupted by the Great Depression and onset of World War II, the young architect assigned to the project, Ralph Jester, eventually urged his friend and fellow architect Lloyd Wright, son of famed Frank Lloyd Wright, to offer his vision to the project. Inspired by a trip to the redwoods of northern California just after the war, Wright remembered the magnificent trees aching overhead like a grand natural cathedral. “In earlier days, all over the face of the earth there were chapels in glades and the woods, which were meeting places for the priests and the people,” said the architect. “The chapel was to be a place for people to meet and think and contemplate the forces of nature and God Almighty. The setting of this chapel is to receive people, the wayfarers.” The finished design is one of the most significant examples of organic architecture in the world. Sixty years ago, Wayfarers Chapel was dedicated as a memorial to Emanual Swedenborg, the theologian and namesake of the denomination. Visited by millions since, “the glass church,” as it has been frequently called, certainly connects one to the visual splendor of the surrounding gardens and ocean view. But it’s the original conceptualization as “tree chapel” that truly realizes the structure’s harmony between God’s natural world and the inner world of mind and spirit. Visit Wayfarers Chapel at 5755 Palos Verdes Drive South in Rancho Palos Verdes. For more information, call 310-377-1650, or visit wayfarerschapel.org. Coming to the Chapel January 25, 7:30 p.m. Supreme Influence: Communicating Vision into Reality, A Conversation with Niurka February 15, 7:30 p.m. Jazz and blues legend Barbara Morrison in concert