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Alex Franco dies at 91; ran L.A. wedding chapel

His Albertson Wedding Chapel was known for quick and inexpensive but memorable ceremonies.

November 14, 2010|By Keith Thursby, Los Angeles Times
  • Alex Franco said a favorite part of his job was when someone comes to tell you its been a moving ceremony, instead of something cold and quick."
Alex Franco said a favorite part of his job was when someone comes to tell…

The Rev. Alex Franco, who performed thousands of weddings at his Albertson Wedding Chapel in Los Angeles, has died. He was 91.

Franco, a Protestant minister who for much of his career was known as Alex Garcia, died Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia, said his son, Daniel.

He founded the chapel in 1974, two years after the California Legislature updated a 19th century law that allowed unwed parents who lived in remote areas to marry without the date being made public record. Their children could then inherit from the parents.

The updated law required the marriages to be recorded with the state, but couples who stipulated that they were living together could be married without a blood test or witnesses. The result was weddings without the wait.

"On a weekday you can walk in here and be married in 20 minutes," Franco told the Dallas Morning News in 1988. "On weekends, we are busier, we need a little notice."

Alex Lazo Franco was born in Lima, Peru, July 14, 1919. He was a minister in Lima for about a decade before moving to New York in 1966, where he worked for an import-export business and volunteered at local churches. He moved to California in the early 1970s.

Franco used the name Garcia after he opened the chapel because he wanted to attract a Latino clientele, his son said.

More than 25,000 couples have been married at the chapel, Franco's son said. Several types of services and features are available, with cost depending on the type of ceremony, when it is held and how many guests are included, according to the chapel's website. In the late 1980s, Franco said he was performing 40 to 45 weddings a month. The chapel has been at its site on Wilshire Boulevard's Miracle Mile since about 1990.

Franco, who was married in a courthouse ceremony in 1973, said he wanted to make weddings affordable but still memorable.

A favorite part of his job was "when someone comes to tell you it's been a moving ceremony, instead of something cold and quick. I still look at those eyes during the ceremony, believe me, especially the gentlemen's," Franco told the Daily News in 1989. "They may come in cool and casual, but as the words are spoken, something changes in them."

Franco continued to perform weddings until the late 1990s, when he retired after a stroke. His son has continued the business.

"This is the story," Franco told the New York Times in 1987. "You're living together with this guy and you may have a kid. But you're still having that dream of a wedding. New Year's Eve is the biggest wedding day, I guess that's for tax purposes."

In addition to his son, Franco is survived by his wife, Maria, and Alex Franco Jr., his son from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. Services will be private.

keith.thursby@latimes.com

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