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Places of the Heart : The area has wedding sites for everyone from train lovers to traditionalists.


The search for the perfect wedding site in the San Fernando Valley is like the hunt for the perfect home. Three things matter the most: location, location, location.

"That's what everyone asks about first," said Darian Mathias, who operates a location service in Sherman Oaks. "That's what sets the tone for everything."

The Valley offers a venue for everyone--the intimate country chapel, the spacious Western ranch, the quaint bed and breakfast, and the unusual airport restaurant. Each place offers a different kind of charm.

According to wedding experts, outside weddings continue to be popular in the Valley. Couples prefer alternatives to the conventional church and banquet package. In Southern California, outside is in.

"People want to be outdoors," said Sue Ladnier, event coordinator at Cheers, a catering service in Northridge. She does about 40 weddings a year. "They're tired of the same old thing. They've gone to a lot of weddings, and they're tired of the hotels."

Also, because a lot of people get married for the second time, they strive for uniqueness. The first time down the aisle, they may have opted for a church wedding. The second time, they want things a little different.

"That means they tend to not want an elaborate ceremony," said Tobey Dodge, a wedding consultant in Woodland Hills. "With the economic situation, they have smaller weddings which tend to lend themselves more to the outdoors."

Following is a sample of nine sites in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys chosen for their attractiveness and uniqueness. Other locations deserve honorable mention: the Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills, the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys and the University Club in Northridge. (Prices given are for renting the spot for the ceremony. Every site, except for the first one, offers both ceremonies and receptions.)

Little Brown Church in the Valley, 4418 Coldwater Canyon Ave., Studio City--Ron and Nancy got married here, and so have about 20,000 others over the last 40 years. It was Ron's second, Nancy's first.

On some busy Saturdays, as many as eight or nine weddings might occur, each an hour apart.

"What people like is the charm of a country chapel in the middle of the city," said Catherine Martin, who books the weddings. "You don't see that anymore. People like the intimacy of it. There's a feeling of peace when you walk in."

That's certainly what attracted Robert Pierce and his bride, Maria Theresa Libecap. It didn't hurt that Robert's parents, Richard and Imogene, had been married in the same church in 1959.

"We didn't want to live together," said Imogene, who got divorced in 1965. "So we got married. The quaintness of the place appealed to us. It's been so long, but everything looks the same to me."

The average ceremony at the nondenominational church takes about 20 minutes, then couples pose for pictures in the small adjacent garden. The chapel, which features 10 rows of benches, has an organ and a piano, and some plants near the front that add an extra touch of nature.

The price ranges from $190 (26 to 40 people) to $275 (more than 100), and covers the church, organist and minister. Call (818) 761-1127.

94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, 16320 Raymer Ave., Van Nuys--a place for couples hoping to get their marriages off to a flying start.

If you don't mind the possibility of a plane drowning out the priest, and you prefer informality, this may be your spot. It certainly did the job for Olga Allen and her husband, Hoss, of Palmdale.

In April, Olga and Hoss got married on the grounds outside the restaurant. From there, one can see the runway of Van Nuys Airport, a replica of an old World War II fighter plane, a duck pond, an army Jeep and a Red Cross ambulance.

Olga, however, couldn't see much.

"As nervous as I was," said Olga Allen, 41, "everything was a kind of blur."

Because it was her second marriage, she opted for something less "uppity." When she first checked the place out, because of its unusual location, she was afraid that her family might have doubts.

"I started laughing so hard," she said. "I could see my family saying, 'It's so disgusting.' But I wanted something different."

It made Hoss happy too.

"I fly model airplanes," he said. "I'm a plane fanatic."

Fortunately, Hoss had his back to the runway so he wouldn't be distracted.

Many couples gather in a brick dining room area that Cathy De Guzman, director of catering, calls the "bombshell patio." It was built in 1972 as a replica to a heavily shelled French farmhouse; there are several big holes in the ceiling and a host of artifacts from both World Wars on the grounds and walls. The real 94th Aero Squadron was one of the first American fighter squadrons to see combat service in World War I.

De Guzman said the rental price is negotiable, but she normally charges about $200 for 100 guests. Call (818) 994-7439.

La Maida House, 11159 La Maida St., North Hollywood--a bed and breakfast for the betrothed to take the next step.

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