Last Friday, November 8th, the staff of Historic Boston Inc. received a behind the scenes tour of the work being done on the Parish of All Saints in Dorchester. The Parish is in the middle of a huge restoration project, which you can learn more about by reading this recent HBI blog post on the restoration. The post is by former HBI staff member, Jeffrey Gonyeau. Jeff is currently running the Parish's Capitol Campaign, and was our extremely knowledgeable tour guide for the afternoon. We all donned hard hats, and followed Jeff from basement rec room to lofty bell tower, and everywhere in between.
The Parish of All Saints was the first church designed by noteworthy American architect, Ralph Adams Cram. Beyond getting to see the work in progress, we all very much enjoyed the opportunity just to take a closer look at the building itself. We were taken by the intricacy of the carvings that decorate both the inside and outside of the building. Inside, finely detailed angels are carved into every nook and cranny, and outside a eccentric gaggle ofgargoyles stand guard. These gargoyles were especially visible when we were perched on the roof of the tower, which was certainly a highlight of the tour. After entering through a secret door, we hiked up turn after turn of a narrow circular staircase, to emerge on the soaring roof of the All Saints bell tower. From our roost we were able to see for miles across the autumnal expanse of the city. From our perspective, downtown Boston’s distant skyline emerged from a sea of autumnal oranges, reds and yellows.
It is certainly a changed view from the one that Cram would have taken in during the tower's construction. However, with the current restoration work being done, the way we were experiencing the building would not be so far from the way that Cram would have. Every aspect of the restoration has been meticulous. From the care taken to replicate the color of the grout being used, to the delicate releading of the stained glass windows. Great pains are being taken to ensure that the result of this work will align with the vision that Cram had for the building over one hundred years ago.
That being said, the church is to house a modern congregation, with needs that Cram could not have anticipated. Certain changes have to be made to the building in order to ensure that it keeps pace with modern regulations, and programmatic demands. For example, to ensure accessibility to all visitors, the front entry to the parish has been redesigned. However, this redesign was done in the same stone as the rest of the building, which makes the transition from old to new construction smooth and seamless. As with any redesign of an existing building, it is necessary to balance the old with the new. A building has to evolve with its inhabitants, but it should still celebrate it's past. It is always tricky to balance that equation. However, it is clear that they are doing it successfully at All Saints.
We recommend following the progress at the All Saints Restoration Photo Blog.