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Earthquake Damage Restoration Completed at Historic National City Christian Church

Accompanying images can be viewed in the current issue PDF

By P.L. Wolff

As we reported a few months following the August 2011 earthquake (5.8 on the Richter scale), the John Russell Pope-designed interior of this magnificent church on Thomas Circle had sustained significant damage to the ornate plaster ceiling and to the 7,000-pipe Möller organ. (See, “Historic Church Faces Earthquake Repairs,” March 2012, issue PDF page 1;

Now, nearly a year after repairs were started, the extensive artisanal plaster restoration work has returned this beautiful, soaring sanctuary to its former glory.

An even bigger challenge was to replace the 500 organ pipes that had been dented or crushed by large sections of falling plaster and other debris so as to render the pipes unplayable. According the church’s minister of music, Charles Miller, it took the church some 16 months to raise enough funds to cover the $125,000 restoration costs.

Complicating the overall restoration work was the necessity to remove some 3,500 of the organ’s pipes to allow for the erection of scaffolding needed to facilitate the architectural inspections and structural work.

The complex plaster restoration work by the Baltimore firm of Hayles & Howe started with the removal of the remaining damaged plaster capitals from the tops of the four marble columns in the front of the sanctuary and from a four-foot-long hole in the ceiling above the pulpit. This was followed by the fabrication of reinforced plaster castings of the old capitals and installation of the new plaster which was then painted to match the existing colors of the church.

The firm of Lawless and Associates Pipe Organ Company of Greencastle, Pennsylvania spent most all of last month re-installing the cleaned and repaired organ pipes in time for Holy Week and Easter services. Additional tuning and related work will be completed in time for the resumption of the weekly Friday, 45-minute lunchtime recital series on April 19th, at 12:15 pm.