Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: The Washington, D.C. Chapel
 


Guest Post: The Washington, D.C. Chapel

By: Reed Russell - September 26, 2012

Reed Russell has assembled this historical record – so lavishly illustrated – of one of the most interesting buildings in 20th century Mormondom.

2810 Sixteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.

1935 . . . . . . 2012

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The District of Columbia’s beautiful 16th Street has a rich heritage.

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Amidst opposition from Protestant ministers, the land for the Washington Chapel was purchased from Mrs. John B. Henderson and the deed was sold to President Heber J. Grant (as trustee for the church) on April 9, 1924.

Building commenced in 1931 under the direction of two Mormon architects: Don Carlos Young, a grandson of Brigham Young, and Norwegian immigrant Ramm Hansen. (Other buildings designed by their firm include the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City, the temple in Mesa, Arizona, and the Federal Reserve Bank in Salt Lake City.) The construction strongly echoes the design of the temple at Salt Lake City with a single spire terminating in a ball on which stood the figure of the angel Moroni. The ten foot tall Moroni, fashioned by Torlief Knaphus, and covered in gold leaf, was a replica of the angel atop the Salt Lake City temple – making it the only chapel in the Church ever to have a statue of the Angel Moroni on top. Estimated cost for the building was $275,000.

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Ready to place the angel Moroni statue atop the chapel, March 1933.

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The Angel Moroni statue is now in the Museum of Church History and Art.

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The Boston Evening Transcript (18 November 1933) said:

“Much attention has been given to the beautiful exterior facing of the building. It is Utah birds-eye marble all of which has been shipped from mountain quarries in the State. It is the only edifice in the world built of this material, which furnishes a glowing warmth and richness to the entire structure. The marble has a satin hone finish and at different times of the day reflects various hues. After a heavy rain the effect is that of highly polished marble which changes, as it dries, into hazy purple. The marble was quarried at the summit of a mountain 9000 feet high, and hauled on mountain roads four miles to the base of a canyon 3000 feet below … The milling of the marble has been a phenomenon of accuracy and those who have witnessed its perfection exclaim over its precision. There are 16,404 blocks of marble in the exterior facing of the building.”

Mahonri Young, also a grandson of Brigham Young, designed the mosaic of Jesus on the Mount of Olives which stands over the main entrance.

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Mahonri Young

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Cultural hall, then and now.

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Seating could be increased from three hundred to approximately seven hundred by removing the partition between the cultural hall and the chapel.

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Overhead was a beautiful coffered ceiling, and in the chapel there are nine large round arched windows, each encasing a circular panel of stained glass.

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On the east the three circular windows show the Hill Cumorah in the center, with a map of the North American continent on one side and the Rocky Mountains on the other. The southern windows have a map of the South American continent in the center and ancient Mesoamerican temples on either side. On the north, the European continent is in the center, flanked by immigration scenes from the early days of the church.

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Originally, a large, leaded white glass chandelier shaped in the form of a cross was in the chapel. It had a spread of approximately fourteen feet and a drop of four feet. At some point it was removed. Also since removed was a gymnasium in the basement.

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Other spaces include the usual dining and kitchen facilities, meeting rooms, and a baptismal font.

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Senator Reed Smoot

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On April 21, 1932 the cornerstone was laid with Senator Smoot presiding, and the dedication took place on November 5, 1933.

All three members of the First Presidency (Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and J. Reuben Clark) and four members of the Council of the Apostles, including Senator Smoot, took part in the ceremonies, with approximately 3000 persons in attendance.

Edgar B. Brossard . . . .  .  . . . . Edward P. Kimball

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President of the Washington Branch at that time was Edgar B. Brossard, a member of the U. S. Tariff Commission. Music was under the direction of Edward P. Kimball, senior organist of the Salt Lake City Tabernacle, who had been sent to Washington to become organist of the new chapel. Until his untimely death in 1937, Kimball gave free organ recitals in the church six nights a week (over 1,000 in all), a custom continued by his successors, one of whom was Alexander Schreiner, until 1949.

© Al Rounds

In 1940, the branch became the Washington Ward. During World War II, the church sponsored Saturday night dances in the cultural hall. After the war, it became known as a “singles ward” resulting in 125 marriages in four years.

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Standing in front of the Washington Ward chapel, 1945, left to right: Elder Joseph Anderson; Elder John A. Widtsoe; Elder German S. Ellsworth; President George Albert Smith; Elder Thomas E. McKay; Elder Edgar B. Brossard, President of Washington Stake.

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The fortieth anniversary of the church in 1973 found the physical structure of the building deteriorating. The porous marble had not held up well in Washington’s humid climate. Acid rain, and exhaust fumes from automobiles further hastened its disintegration. One report estimated repairs would cost $450,000.

Some of the more than 50 people who once attended the Washington Ward. (Provided by Genie Pratt)

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An expense of that magnitude for a rapidly diminishing congregation was not acceptable to authorities in Salt Lake City. The final service in the Washington chapel was held on August 31, 1975. In September 1977, after the building had stood vacant for two years, it was sold to the Columbia Road Recording Studios, Inc. The next day it was sold again – to the Unification Church. Before the building was turned over to the new owner, the statue of Moroni was taken down, and the contents of the cornerstone were removed. It was dedicated as a Unification Church on December 4, 1977 by Reverend Moon.

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The current-day photos in this post were all taken in August 2012. Perhaps my strongest feeling regarding this amazing structure is a profound concern for its future. There seems to be, at present, a handful of members of the Unification Church who are just living there. They acknowledge that the building continues to suffer; there is standing water in the basement, several cracks in the walls and the staircase leading up into the spire has been closed after some substantial damage from last year’s earthquake.

I would be very interested to hear of anyone’s family involvement with the building, any related anecdotes, and if anyone knows if the building has ever been professionally photographed inside and out. If not, that desperately needs to be done.



40 Comments »

  1. This is of timely interest because this Saturday will be the open house for the new LDS chapel on 16th Street, at Emerson one and a half miles north of the old one, held in conjunction with a food drive for the Capital Area Food Bank. Services begin the week after General Conference.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 26, 2012 @ 7:24 am

  2. Reed, thanks for all the pictures and the story. I knew nothing of this building other than a vague recollection that it had been sold to the Unification Church. It’s a shame that the building couldn’t have been better preserved. I especially liked the pictures of the stained glass windows.

    Comment by kevinf — September 26, 2012 @ 8:02 am

  3. I wondered whether the square building next to the church was part of it, so I pulled it up on Google Street View–only to discover that it’s a Masonic Temple–”Scottish Rite Temple” is the inscription over the doorway.

    But the church–what a fine looking building! Thanks, Reed, for this post.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 26, 2012 @ 8:23 am

  4. The Moroni statue was familiar, but I had no idea about the art glass and mosaic. I am glad they still exist — but …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 26, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  5. What a beautiful post with all those lovely pictures. It’s really too bad the building had such a short life.

    Comment by Amy T — September 26, 2012 @ 9:40 am

  6. I thought tht there was also a First Vision stained glass that was removed. Does anybody know about the where abouts of that?

    Comment by PJD — September 26, 2012 @ 10:30 am

  7. I suspect this is the building that Ezra Taft Benson and J.W. Marriott attended services in during their tenure as leaders in the city.

    Comment by The Other Clark — September 26, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  8. Thanks, Reed, for this post with all the history and pictures. One of my commuting routes to Main Interior at 18th & C (actually, the E Street entrance) used to pass this building (mid-80s). All I knew was that it was a Unification Church and the former LDS chapel – and I think there was some indication of that on the exterior front of the building – maybe the engraved “The Glory of God is Intelligence.”

    Comment by Grant — September 26, 2012 @ 10:48 am

  9. With all of the church reaquisitions of former properties, I wonder if it might be possible for it to be bought and turned into a church history site. It certainly has the space to have youth or singles conferences, maybe even EFY. Hmmmmmm…

    Comment by Julia — September 26, 2012 @ 11:21 am

  10. 1) The photo of Mahonri Young is great.
    2) I wonder where the original (lamented) lighting fixtures went.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — September 26, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

  11. so lavishly illustrated

    Agreed! Thanks.

    Comment by David Y. — September 26, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

  12. The building also included caretaker’s quarters.

    Comment by Paul — September 26, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

  13. The Other Clark was correct in his surmise. From History of the Washington D.C. LDS Ward by Lee H. Burke (1990): “The Washington Ward was the focal point of most activities of the Church in the Washington area at this time. Stake conferences were held at the ward. the stake presidency’s office was located at the ward, the stake high council met in the Relief Society room each week, baptisms for many wards in the stake were held there, and stake priesthood leadership and auxiliary meetings were held at the ward.” (p. 96) “A site was bought in Wheaton, Maryland for a two-ward chapel and a stake center for Washington Stake. Construction began on the building in 1964, and it was dedicated by Elder Harolds B. Lee on May 22, 1966. The stake, then having it own home, move its offices out of the Washington Ward chapel.” (p. 130) Benson was stake president from 1940 to 1943, and Marriott from 1948 to 1957. As it happens, the current stake president is married to a granddaughter of J.W. Marriott. Of current general church leaders, Richard G. Scott would be very familiar with the old 16th Street chapel.

    Regarding the quick turn around of the property by Columbia Road Music Studios, they bought it for $300,000 and sold it the same day for $475,000. (p. 141) In comparison, property for the new 16th Street chapel cost four million dollars in 2005 and took five years of serious effort to get construction approved. This was one and a half acres with a convent home that was immediately demolished. The cloistered Dominican nuns who sold it needed more space and moved a few dozen miles to the west in Virginia. They have been building stone buildings on their new property without structural steel or wood so they may last a some hundreds of years.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 26, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

  14. Thanks for adding so much to our knowledge of the story, John. That was wonderful – and wouldn’t it be great if we could get Elder Scott to comment.

    Comment by reed russell — September 26, 2012 @ 9:58 pm

  15. You’ve actually solved a mystery for me:

    I have an old copy of a book of choral music entitled “Festival Anthems for Ward Choirs” published by the Church’s General Music Committee in 1941. On the front cover is an image of a temple-like building with an Angel Moroni on top of the spire. I knew it was definitely not a temple, and was wondering if it was just someone’s flight of fancy, but now I see that it’s actually the old Washington, D.C. chapel.

    Comment by PostScript — September 27, 2012 @ 12:37 am

  16. This post has led me to wonder about church buildings that have been replaced by another structure on the same site due to wear or lack of current suitability. I know of the Mar Vista Ward building on Centinela in Los Angeles that was built in 1928, and then rebuilt about 65 years later. The Ogden temple could be such a case.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 27, 2012 @ 6:18 am

  17. John- there is the 1970′s-era Stake Center on the site of the Coalville, Utah Tabernacle – torn down when it became difficult to repair or use. That was quite controversial at the time – but at least they saved the big stained glass windows.

    And there is a same-era Stake Center on the site of the South Bountiful Meeting House (“Latter Day Saint Assembly Hall 1904″). This location is now Woods Cross, Utah at 1500 S 800 W (by Bountiful coordinates). That was quite an impressive structure that burned after being hit by lightning 27 July 1951. (There’s a display about this building at the Woods Cross Frontrunner Station).

    It’s sad when we loose historic buildings – I even feel sad about replacing the Fetzer designed Temple in Ogden and especially painting the orange steeple in Provo white!

    Comment by Grant — September 27, 2012 @ 9:02 am

  18. There was a beautiful white tabernacle in Rigby, Idaho that has been replaced by a plain old stake center. People are still mourning it.

    Comment by Carol — September 27, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

  19. I loved seeing the photographs. I was a member of the Washington Stake in the late ’60s until we got split off into the Chesapeake Stake a few years later. The stake center (for both stakes, actually) at that time was in Silver Spring, and that is where I was baptized. Sadly, I never had occasion to visit the Washington Ward when I lived there.

    On my last visit to Washington about 5-6 years ago, I made it a point to take my first look at the old Washington Ward. Then I walked a few blocks to the north and went to church in the nearby LDS building. The new building is nice enough I suppose, but I lamented the loss of that beautiful old building with Moroni on top. I thought it a shame that that ward couldn’t worship in the nearby historic building. I think there are a number of cities where the church abandoned classic urban buildings, only to find that they were needed again a couple of decades later.

    It’s too bad to hear of the deterioration of this church. I would sure love to see the church buy it back and fix it up for the use of the local wards.

    Comment by Left Field — September 27, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

  20. Is it true that the San Antonio Temple is patterned after this chapel?

    Comment by Karen T — October 21, 2012 @ 10:19 am

  21. Nice mention of the D.C. chapel Moroni in yesterday’s DN, but what is that a picture of?

    http://www.deseretnews.com/top/1101/136/Washington-DC-chapel-statue-A-historical-tour-through-LDS-temple-Angel-Moroni-statues.html

    Comment by reed russell — November 9, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

  22. Ha, Reed. That is an awfully modern-looking 1930s steeple. : )

    Comment by Amy T — November 9, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

  23. Strange choice of pic for a caption talking about the old D.C. Chapel – that’s a pic of the Boston Temple.
    http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/boston/gallery/images/boston-mormon-temple1.jpg

    Comment by PostScript — November 10, 2012 @ 2:49 am

  24. Thanks for identifying this, PS. The caption says “This version of the statue also appears on three temples” so I gathered that the photo was of one of those three, but it’s odd they didn’t use a picture of the building they were discussing, or even ID the picture that they did use!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 10, 2012 @ 5:29 am

  25. I had a hard time finding my way through it. That may just be the browser on my phone though. I will be glad to have my laptop back.

    Comment by Julia — November 12, 2012 @ 1:01 am

  26. If you click through the “next” button, you can see that replicas of the Washington chapel statue are found on Atlanta, Idaho Falls, and Boston. The statue on Idaho Falls was added back sometime around the late ’80s if I remember correctly.

    Comment by Left Field — November 12, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

  27. This letter found by a friend is a great find – and a great follow-up to the story:

    REED SMOOT, UTAH,
    CHAIRMAN.

    United States Senate,
    COMMITTEE ON FINANCE.

    May 20,1924.

    Mr. Isaac K. Russell,
    Care of American Institute of Baking,
    1135 Fullerton Ave.,
    Chicago, Ill.

    Dear friend Ike:

    This will acknowledge receipt of your letter of
    May 17, 1924, enclosing a copy of your interesting letter
    dated May 17, 1924, addressed to President Grant.

    No doubt President Grant will answer your letter,
    and I hope in a way that will be perfectly satisfactory
    to you and will result in a benefit to the Church.

    We have purchased the best corner in Washington.
    It cost the Church $54,000. I expect the Church to put
    up a magnificent building here, one that will be not only
    an honor to the Church but to Washington as well. Every
    visitor to Washington will have this Mormon edifice pointed
    out to him and I know nothing that will advertise the Mormon
    people better than a magnificent structure on the corner of
    Columbia Road and Sixteenth Street.

    With very best wishes for your future happiness,
    I remain

    Yours sincerely,

    Reed Smoot

    Comment by reed russell — November 12, 2012 @ 10:12 pm

  28. Thanks for this great article! I was baptized in this building in 1961! In 1961 it was the ONLY building with a baptismal font in the area! Very soon after that the Scotts Run Rd. McLean, Virginia building was built (one of the last LDS chapels to be built with ward members helping to build it). I raised my own family in the Northern Virginia area and always wondered about the Washington Ward building’s owners, and have had fond memories of that building. I live in Utah now, and was happy to come upon the Angel Moroni statue when visiting the church’s history museum.Thanks again for a great article.

    Comment by Christine Holloway — November 17, 2012 @ 8:53 am

  29. Thank you for this story. My great grandfather was Ramm Hansen. His drawings of the temples were always hung in my grandfather Paul Hansens home. I always loved the sketches of his stained glass windows the most. It is a pleasure to see pictures of them since I have not been able to see them in person. Again thank you!

    Comment by Heather Welch — November 22, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

  30. Thanks – I had hoped to include a photo of Ramm Hansen with the story, but I just couldn’t find one out there that I could borrow!

    Comment by reed russell — November 22, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

  31. I have photos of him as well as many of his sketches. If you still need I can assist.

    Comment by Heather Welch — November 26, 2012 @ 9:23 pm

  32. I was a member of the Washington Ward from 1962 to 1964 and served as a Stake Missionary (proselyting) in that ward. I became married in 1963, and my new wife joined me as a Stake Missionary. In addition to our normal proselyting activities, we held tours of the building, using the stained glass windows as visual aids. We moved to Arizona shortly after the beltway was completed around Washington and a few years before construction of the Washington Temple.

    Comment by Allen — January 1, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

  33. I grew up in DC area from 1960-1972. My father was in the Bishopric with Jim Bonner and Russell Marriott of the newly organized Rock Creek Ward of the Rock Creek Stake in 1963. In 2001 I was a home teacher of a former member of the same ward many years later ( the son of Marion D Hanks, then just retired from the Marriott Corporation and moved to SLC) he showed me a leather bound History of the Washington DC Stake which included a picture of the Bishopric and a article regarding their establishment of a ward social group named “The Chat n Chew”. Does anyone have a copy of the book or photos of the era, or other interesting information? Family friends were Russell and Phylis Marriott, Jim and Minnie Haycock, Rusty Hall, the Hydes and many others I can’t recall at the moment.

    I and my family were sad to see the 16th Street Chapel sold and have cherished our memories of driving by it for now many decades.

    Please feel free to contact me at: pjatthebeach@me.com

    Comment by Pj Howard — July 15, 2013 @ 10:08 pm

  34. I visited that chapel in 1957 and 58 when I was in the Army. I was very impressed with the building, inside and out. I attended a sacrament meeting; Ezra Taft Benson spoke. He was serving in President Eisenhower’s cabinet. A lot of young people were there; I think they were pages for government officials. I was proud that we had such a beautiful building in DC and disappointed when I learned the Church had sold it. I have good black and white pictures.

    Comment by W Neal Eagar — September 16, 2013 @ 10:34 am

  35. I served in the Eastern Atlantic States Mission in the late sixties. The DC Chapel was within walking distance from our apartment. It was a difficult time for LDS missionaries in DC, but that solid, beautiful building provided me with renewed strength and resolve. I was most disappointed to hear that it had been sold to others.

    Comment by Walle Koning — October 3, 2013 @ 10:03 am

  36. I am a descendant of Don Carlos Young and recently went up to DC to see this chapel because my grandfather told me about it.
    I recorded some video that can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJ9bSpkPE-c&feature=youtu.be

    It is beautifully designed, but sadly the grounds have not been as well kept as I would have hoped. I hope one day the church we be able to buy the chapel back and make good use of it!

    Comment by sk — December 17, 2013 @ 9:58 am

  37. I was typing up a few more pages of my life sketch when I decided to find out if there was a photo of the chapel where I was baptized, to include. As I did a search, I came across this wonderful web site! Wow, this is amazing! Thank you Reed!!! What a wonderful walk thru the past for me! My father worked at the pentagon and so we lived in the Arlington Ward. Goodsells, Ferbers, Whites, Taggarts, Bradfords, Alexanders and that era. As a youth in 1957, I had innocently thought I had been baptized into the Catholic church because of the beautiful stained glass windows! Of course, I was straightened out quickly, and ever since have precious memories of this beautiful chapel. Not many can say that we were baptized at a chapel with a Moroni on top. That was why I had searched for a photo. Thanks so much for this site! I now live in Idaho and have met two more people that were also baptized there. Bates and Taggarts. What a treasure! Thanks to everyone who has contributed, this is enjoyable to read and remember…..

    Comment by Patricia Hansen Whiteley — February 27, 2014 @ 9:35 am

  38. I’m so glad you found it, Patricia. If you’d like, please share any knowledge or memories you have of this great building. All contributions to this little piece of history are more than welcome!

    Comment by reed russell — February 27, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

  39. I spent the first almost 11 years of my life attending services twice a Sunday and Tuesday afternoons at Primary in this magnificent building. The mill work on the interior was extraordinary. I was baptized in the font twice, because my right toe came out of the water on the first try. One of my all time favorite people was Edgar B. Brossard; who, by the way, has an extensive photo collection that he donated to Utah State University; and it would not surprize me in the least that there are interior photos of the D.C. Chapel in that collection. Several years ago I obtained two photos from that collection. One of the photos was an exterior shot with everyone in the congregation who attended that particular day standing on either the stairs or the lawn. The other was a group shot of several of us who worked at a churches garden spot Somewhere on the outskirts of D.C.. You might do well to contact U.S.U. to see about seeing if anything like what you’re looking for exists in the collection.
    I just checked on Edgar B. Brossard on google and it appears that you have already been there.

    Any way Reed Russell, a very fine job. I hope that you will be able to find some interior pictures, because it’s been very difficult trying to discribe it to my children and grandchildren.
    I’m so glad that I saw Pat Whiteley today at church in Nampa, Idaho who shared this link with me.

    Comment by Daniel M. Bates — March 2, 2014 @ 5:24 pm

  40. The nearly 11 years that I attended were from 1942 – 1953 when we moved to London, England.

    Comment by Daniel M. Bates — March 2, 2014 @ 5:35 pm

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