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.

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51 Comments »

  1. Here’s a Google Map Street View of the former D.C. Chapel upon which the Houston Temple is designed. As you can see, the building is undergoing exterior restoration. There are also a lot of current images of the edifice on flickr.

    Comment by Andrew E. Clark — December 15, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

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