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Dome of venerable Echo Park church at risk of collapse

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When Pastor Frank Wulf thinks about the fact that his congregation has not been able to pray in his home for 100 years, he is reminded of the Old Testament scriptures about the Israelites in exile.

Wulf Church, Echo Park United Methodist Church, located at North Alvarado Street and Reservoir Street in Northeast Los Angeles, is currently not safe for occupancy. The century-old dome atop the church’s steeple was damaged by recent atmospheric rivers that hit California, and structural engineers say it could topple into the church and cause a snowball effect of collapses that could injure people inside the structure.

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Pieces of a collapsed roof lay on the ground beneath the golden dome that sits

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Notices are stuck on the doors of the Echo Park United Methodist Church, which has been a community beacon for 100 years.

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Moldy, rain-damaged walls inside Echo Park United Methodist Church,

1. Pieces of a collapsed roof lay on the ground beneath the golden dome that sits atop Echo Park United Methodist Church. 2. Notices are stuck on the doors of the Echo Park United Methodist Church, which has been a community beacon for 100 years. 3. Moldy, rain-damaged walls inside the Echo Park United Methodist Church, which has been a community beacon for 100 years. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

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

“The church is not really a building but a community of people, a community that takes care of 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.

This happened after the first severe storm of the season caused the tower to partially collapse, exposing the wood that supports the golden dome.

The wood was 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 to gather.

The evacuation of the building affects not only the 40 or 45 people who attend Sunday services, but also other members of the community served by the church.

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

He also had to inform 12-step groups for people with alcoholism or other substance use disorders that they couldn’t meet at church, at least for now.

A man stands next to a staircase in a wood-paneled room

Pastor Frank Wulf of Echo Park United Methodist Church in one of the rooms badly damaged by recent heavy rains.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The church had built a temporary shelter for migrants being bused to Los Angeles from Texas. It was supposed to have four families in this space in mid-February, but had to pause that program as well.

“Our primary commitment is to keep everyone safe,” the church team said in a statement posted on a GoFundMe page it set up to raise money for the work needed to reopen.

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

“Would this be an appropriate time to maybe demolish the whole building and start from scratch? ” He asked.

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