Washington National Cathedral: An Earthquake Update

In what’s becoming a familiar sight, members of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates’ Difficult Access Team—the same group that scaled the Washington Monument last month—began rappelling down another Washington, D.C., landmark on Monday—this time inspecting Washington National Cathedral for earthquake damage. It’s the first time the team has worked on the iconic place of worship, which was built between 1907 and 1990.

Currently, a team of architects and engineers is inspecting the towers above the cathedral’s west front; they are expected to move on to the taller central tower next week. The team members climb with iPads to document the condition of the exterior, and with debris buckets to collect loose mortar or stone.

The structure’s 300-foot central tower sustained significant damage from the August earthquake, which caused three pinnacles to crack and fall onto the roof. Cracks also appeared in some of the flying buttresses.

A post-earthquake assessment revealed that the cathedral was still structurally sound, but it has remained closed since August 23rd, and perimeter fencing rings the Gothic structure. “We don’t anticipate finding new damage [through WJE’s assessment],” says cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg, who noted that the team was hired as a safety precaution.

Early estimates indicate that restoration will cost tens of millions of dollars; a fundraising campaign hopes to raise at least $25 million toward restoration and next year’s operating costs. The sanctuary is the second-largest cathedral in the United States, and the sixth-largest in the world.

Two weeks ago, the cathedral announced a reopening date of November 12, when the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington will be consecrated. “There’s hardly any chance that the opening will be moved back,” Weinberg says.

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