Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Getting a little bit closer to heaven?


Scaffolding pinned up against the exteriors of buildings is a pretty common sight around Boston, but on the inside? Sometimes that’s what it takes to get a close look at high-up architectural features inside soaring interior spaces like those found in many houses of worship.

Starting this summer, John G. Waite Associates Architects (JGWA) began working on completing a historic structures report for The Parish of All Saints, Ashmont, in Dorchester. This important church is the first religious building designed by Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, whose collective work greatly influenced church design in America in the first half of the 20th century by breathing new life into the Gothic Revival style. Funded by an anonymous foundation, HBI is helping the congregation manage the preparation of an historic structures report that will document the history and evolution of this building, which became a stylistic and literal model for many churches across the country.  The report will also include an existing conditions analysis and a prioritized scope of work that will lay the groundwork for critical repairs to this National Register listed building.


Architect Clay Palazzo and his team from JGWA have completed a thorough survey of the exterior of the building, checking the massive granite walls for areas in need of repointing, inspecting the slate roof, gutters, and flashing, and paying particular attention to the condition of the building’s windows. While most of the traceried window openings hold striking orange-red, diamond-shaped “cathedral glass” (which was meant to be temporary until funds were raised to install permanent figural stained glass), there are several windows by notable American craftsmen, such as Harry Eldridge Goodhue (Bertram’s brother) and Charles Connick, not to mention a rare American example of a window by Christopher Whall, the foremost English Arts and Crafts Movement glassmaker of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Stained glass expert Julie Sloan, who is part of the team JGWA has assembled for this study (which includes other specialists in the area of structural engineering, acoustics, and lighting), is the primary beneficiary of the movable interior scaffolding. This allows her to inspect and even touch windows that are 20 feet above most people’s heads. From her perch in front of Harry Goodhue’s window “The Adoration of the Magi,” Julie shared with us how pleased she is to be working with JGWA on the All Saints project, remarking, “the progression from Whall to H.E. Goodhue to Connick demonstrates the upheaval in stained glass style in America, which makes All Saints, Ashmont, a pivotal location in the history of the medium." Julie went on say that because of this significance, the windows at All Saints "deserve the finest care to preserve the evolutionary trend they richly illustrate.”

Historic Boston is pleased to be associated with this important study. HBI project manager Jen Mecca is playing a key role in facilitating the work for the parish and funding foundation as an outgrowth of HBI’s extensive track record of assisting congregations with historic houses of worship through the Steeples Project.

Interested in learning more about the preservation of historic churches and how you might be able to preserve significant features in your historic house of worship? Join the Boston Preservation Alliance for a workshop on the preservation of Religious Properties for Boston congregations with historic buildings on Saturday, November 13, 2010 at Roxbury Presbyterian Church from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m. Designed to help congregations and their leadership with stewardship of their historic religious buildings, this workshop provides guidance on assessments, prioritization of repairs and restoration, building management and fundraising. For registration, details and directions, click here.

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