"Church of the Presidents" Reopens
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Dec. 11, 2008
The Church of the Presidents looks a bit more presidential, thanks to an elaborate restoration project expected to be completed by Inauguration Day.
Last Sunday, St. John's Episcopal Church, just a stone's throw from the White House, reopened for services. It had been closed for seven months, during which D.C.-based Bowie Gridley Associates supervised updating of electrical systems, the repainting of walls, and extensive repairs to antique floorboards. Although pews won't be reinstalled until next month and a new pipe organ is not scheduled for installation until February, the $6.8 million project is essentially complete.
The most striking change at St. John's is the ceiling of its dome: white for most of the last century, it was repainted blue. "Now it's just spectacular," says Betsy Danello, St. John's senior warden.
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Designed by Benjamin Latrobe, the father of American architecture, St. John's badly needed a number of structural and system upgrades. "There were loud clanging radiators during the service that they took care of," says Cindi Malinick, church member and director of the nearby Decatur House, which Latrobe also designed. "It went as long as it could before it had to undergo restoration."
The yellow, neoclassical church was the second structure built on Washington's Layfayette Square after the White House. Latrobe himself played the organ at the consecration service on Dec. 27, 1816.
The last restoration of St. John's was undertaken in 1919 by the prestigious firm McKim, Mead & White. During this year's project, the congregation gathered for worship in the Hall of Flags at the nearby Commerce Department. Their return last Sunday was "very joyful," Danello says.
The project received a matching grant from Save America's Treasures.
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