Best Tiny Chapel in the Middle of a Parking Lot (2009)

Little Tree Church

Orange Countians have long lamented the disappearance of orange groves, old homes and alligator farms amid the march of progress. But the give-and-take between preservation and modernization has produced refreshing cultural oddities such as the tiny, white, wedding chapel in the middle of a Tustin shopping center's parking lot. Fitting about six people, Little Tree Church is a replica of Hopewell Church just outside Columbia, Tennessee, but it's not as old as it appears. In 1955, builder C.T. Gilbreath bought the surrounding property, which at that time included a Victorian house built in the 1880s, a barn, an orange grove, avocado trees and a large oak tree. He lived there with his family until 1960, when he decided to erect the Jamestown Village shopping center. Gilbreath tried to give the house away to anyone who would take it, but no offers came, so it was demolished. In the end, all that was left was the oak. Gilbreath wanted to do something more special with the tree than simply surround it with asphalt. He first thought about planting flowers around it, but what's so special about that? Adding a treehouse was discarded because of liability issues (yes, even in those days). Finally, he thought back to the Tennessee church he had gone to in a horse and buggy with his grandmother in 1912—the one she'd been attending since the Civil War. So Gilbreath created a miniature version with white-clapboard siding, a red-brick porch and that big oak rising out of the middle of it. The tree eventually became diseased and had to go. Gilbreath died in 1987, followed by his wife, Charlie May, in 2004, but the family still owns the Little Tree Church. A nearby shopkeeper used to unlock the chapel to show it to potential renters, but she retired. Sadly, without an on-site custodian, Gilbreath Family Enterprises says, it cannot currently rent the chapel out. For now, we can only gaze in amazement from the outside. Look both ways before crossing.

Location Details

520 El Camino Real
Tustin CA 92780


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