Written by Rich Tafel
Church of the Holy City in Washington, D.C. is a landmark in our nation’s capital located on Sixteenth Street only a ten-minute walk away from the White House. Possibly the most striking part of the church’s architecture is that incredible tower with far reaching pinnacles.
The church, built in 1896, was designed by a leading architect in the United States, Langford Warren, the dean of Harvard’s School of Architecture. He was joined by another famous Swedenborgian architect, Paul Pelz, who would go on to design the Library of Congress.
Their masterpiece is stunning from the outside, but now over one hundred years old, it has been in need of major renovations. Together with the General Council, the Trustees, and the Building Fund we worked in coordination with the leadership at Church of the Holy City to engage in a four-year program to make the building safe for use.
The biggest challenge for the team seeking to keep the church safe has been tackling the church tower. One hundred years of weather, snow, hurricanes, and one earthquake have left the tower in a vulnerable position.
Minutes from church meetings in the 1980s record concerns that the tower needs to be inspected and repaired. The local church and trustees have been looking for financially responsible ways to tackle the challenge.
History repeated itself when a prominent Cambridge, Massachusetts, architect Mark Careaga—a member of the Cambridge Church—in a meeting with our church President, Jane Siebert, and Treasurer Jennifer Lindsay, offered to help find the right team to begin work on the tower. Based on this guidance, on March 8, 2022, the tower began much needed repairs. For the first time in church history the building has been seen from above when cranes were used to view the structural decay.
In addition to getting the first real view of the tower from above, a masonry team inspected every pinnacle to see if any were in danger of potentially falling off. After two days of work over ten pieces of pinnacle were removed from the tower, each a foot to two feet long. The team working on the project said it was only a matter of time before these would have fallen to the ground. In addition, the team cemented a loose piece that was too large to remove.
The project was conducted with three female leaders—from the masonry team, the engineering team and our own Shalonda Ingram—on the International Day of Women. Thanks to this proactive work, the church is no longer a potential threat to pedestrians nearby.
As if to acknowledge this important work, a new book was published last week entitled, Sixteenth Street, Washington’s Avenue of Ambition. This was followed by a Washington Post article that highlighted the book. The book interviews church members Malcolm Peck and Elfa Halloway.
We face daunting challenges in our world and in our churches, but working together we can find ways to move forward together.
Read the full issue of the May 2022 Messenger
Meet Rich Tafel
Rev. Rich Tafel is deeply involved in the intersection of faith and the public square. He has been the pastor of the Church of the Holy City in Washington, D.C. for the past six years.