Malibu Presbyterian Church


Marie-José Jongerius, Malibu (CA), 2007

“The devil winds brought the fire that burned down our church. But that’s not the end of our story,” reverend Greg Hughes told his congregation one Sunday morning in 2011. They had gathered at the former site of the Presbyterian Church at Malibu Canyon Road to celebrate the rebuilding of their sanctuary. “If you find yourself in an ash heap, don’t let that define you. We’re moving on, we’re getting up.”

Four years earlier, on October 21, 2007, Hughes had been at his church preparing for that day’s Sunday services. That same morning, strong winds had felled three overloaded wooden utility poles uphill. Sparks from the electrical wires had ignited dry brush, creating an inferno that raced down the canyon. Hughes and other church members were just in time to rescue some important documents and computers, before blowing embers ignited the church roof. The building burned down completely. The picture shows the scorched hillside and parking lot adjacent to the church.

The Malibu Canyon fire was one of about thirty wildfires that harassed Southern California in October 2007. Together, these fires forced about 1,000,000 people to evacuate from their homes and destroyed at least 1,500 homes and approximately 1,500 square miles of land.

Faced with the challenge to rebuild the church in exact the same spot — in the highest risk fire zone in California — the architects of Domusstudio designed a sanctuary with stone-clad exterior walls, rated for two-hours of fire resistance, a copper roof and non-combustible materials throughout the structure. It was inaugurated late January 2013. “From ash a new church is resurrected,” reverend Hughes stated during the first service.

Mike Davis, ‘The Case for Letting Malibu Burn’, Environmental History Review, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1995
Martha Groves and Tony Perry, ‘Overloaded power lines blamed in 2007 Malibu fire’, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2009
April Harter, ‘Destroyed by 2007 Wildfires, Malibu Presbyterian Church Now Being Rebuilt’, Malibu Patch, October 4, 2012
McKenzie Jackson, ‘Malibu Presbyterian debuts new sanctuary’, The Malibu Times, January 30, 2013
Bob Pool, ‘Fire-ravaged Malibu church breaks ground for new sanctuary’, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2011