Friday, September 27, 2013

All Saints, Ashmont, Restoration Charges Forward

This guest blog post was written by former long-time HBI staffer Jeffrey Gonyeau who, since last March, has been working on the All Saints restoration project providing fundraising services and other project support. Please feel free to contact him at if you have any questions about the project.

Early this summer, the comprehensive restoration project at All Saints, Ashmont, in Dorchester shifted into high gear as Consigli Construction began the first phase of work.

Phase I of the project focuses primarily on roof replacement on the church and roof repair on the adjoining Parish House, complete masonry repointing, stained glass window restoration and other window repairs, the creation of a new accessible ramp and landing at the primary tower entry to the church, and the installation of new, larger bathrooms in the Parish House.

This work has required the complete scaffolding of both the exterior and interior of the church and Parish House. What seems like acres of green, protective scrim netting almost completely obscures the building, creating a new “Green Monster” in Peabody Square.  The bright green scrim is actually visible in the distance on the southern horizon from inside tall buildings in the Back Bay, some 6 miles away.

The new accessible ramp (about half-completed now)at the tower entry is one of the few changes to the exterior of the building. Architects at John G. Waite & Associates designed a remarkably discreet ramp whose low profile allows for minimal railings and which is clad with Quincy seam-faced granite from the same quarry that supplied the original stone for the church. The benefits of the new ramp and entry porch are already obvious; its broad stairs made from granite stair treads from the old entry and salvaged from elsewhere around the building extend closer to the sidewalk and beckon people into the building.

The only other significant change to the exterior will be a small addition in a corner of the cloister garden that will house a 2-door, 5-stop elevator, providing access to all levels of the complexand creating a proper, at-grade entry to the Parish House. Otherwise this project is a careful exterior restoration of architect Ralph Adams Cram’s first church.

The Consigli team, which is self-performing the masonry work, calculated that 35 tons and over 40,000 linear feet of old mortar is being chiseled out and the same amount will need to be laid into the irregular joints in the granite walls. The masons have made great progress laying in the new mortar, whose color was carefully calibrated to match samples of the earliest mortar on the building. This will replace several types and colors of mortar from years of patching and—for the first time in 120 years—the building will have only one color of mortar throughout!
The wooden window tracery throughout the building has needed an unexpected and heroic amount of restoration work. Consigli has skillfully repaired or replicated many deteriorated elements, especially in the chancel clerestory and the great tower window. Most of the windows have been removed for restoration off-site by stained glass artist, Lyn Hovey. The important and highly valuable figural glass by Christopher Whall, Charles Connick, and other glass artists is not going very far—less than a mile away to Lyn’s restoration studio, which recently relocated to just outside of Codman Square.

This exterior work will be complete this fall and will be followed seamlessly by a second phase of work focused on building systems replacement—including new and efficient plumbing, electrical, and heating systems—and interior finish work, along with the previously mentioned entry and elevator addition to the Parish house. Construction is hoped to be complete in early 2015.

The project is attracting quite a bit of “preservation tourism.” Several groups—including the Common Boston Architecture Festival, various folks from Historic New England (which will hold a new preservation restriction easement on the church to help preserve it in perpetuity once the project is complete), a group from this year’s Annual Arts and Crafts Conference, and others have already been through, and there are upcoming tours by HBI staff and the Boston Preservation Alliance.

In December, All Saints will be a major site of events related to the celebration of Ralph Adams Cram’s 150th birthday, which will include a series of tours and events on December 13th-14th.  (Cram’s actual birthday is December 16th, which has been made a feast in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church honoring Cram, architect Richard Upjohn, and artist John LaFarge—all of whom have had a profound effect on church building and decoration in America.)

All of this attention is not only helping to raise awareness about the architectural significance of the building, but is demonstrating that significant historic resources exist and large-scale preservation projects can happen in all of Boston’s neighborhoods, including Dorchester. HBI, of course, knows this well through its work in Boston’s neighborhoods, including helping to manage the preparation of the extensive Historic Structure Report—400 pages of text and drawings plus 400 pages of appendices!—prepared in 2011-2012 by John G. Waite Associates that served as a key planning document for the All Saints project.

To keep tabs on the progress on this major project, visit the “Project Update” and “Photo Blog” on the All Saints website at where many photos and other interesting project details are regularly posted.

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