National Cathedral shows post-earthquake progress inside and out

Posted Aug 22, 2013

[Washington National Cathedral press release] Washington National Cathedral marked the second anniversary of the D.C. earthquake that left $26 million of damage to the historic Gothic building, with stone masons and structural engineers ready to begin examining the vaulted ceiling, working 100 feet over the Cathedral’s boldly patterned stone floor. High above on the “dance floor” scaffold landing, with the huge “Creation” rose window as their backdrop, crews will have an up-close view of the vaulted ceiling as they begin assessing the needed repairs. To date the Cathedral has raised $10 million of the funding needed to complete restoration of both the interior and exterior.

“In the two years since the 2011 earthquake damaged the Cathedral, we have made progress toward the restoration of our building.  Much of this progress has been behind-the-scenes planning, as the work is very complex and requires tremendous coordination,” said the Cathedral’s Senior Director of Finance and Administration Andrew Hullinger. “To this point, much of the visual progress has been part of the ongoing assessment of the scope of the damage and determination of the means and methods of repair.  On the one-year anniversary, our masons set a ceremonial first stone back on the central tower;  today  we begin the work to restore the interior vaulting, work that  will eventually allow us to remove the netting from the ceiling of the nave.”

The restoration efforts that followed the first anniversary of the magnitude 5.8 earthquake, the largest to strike the region since the nineteenth century, were made possible through contributions from thousands of friends nationwide as well as a generous $5 million grant from the prestigious Lilly Endowment, Inc. Approximately $16 million more dollars must be raised to enable full restoration, not counting long-term preservation and deferred maintenance projects that have also been identified.

Earlier this year, Washington National Cathedral took first place and secured a $100,000 grant in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Partners in Preservation” competition, an online voting contest funded by American Express.  Those funds will help to install the first phase of scaffolding in the west balcony and the first two bays of the nave, inspect the vaulted ceiling in these areas, and make the repairs which will allow for the removal of the black debris netting that currently obscures stone carvings and stained glass windows.

The Cathedral’s director of preservation and facilities, James W. Shepherd AIA LEED AP, is managing each step of the complex restoration process along with the Cathedral’s dedicated team of stone masons headed by Joe Alonso. Some of the damage the engineers expect to find will have resulted from the earthquake; other damage, resulting from ongoing wear and tear, speaks to the historic preservation work that comes with the long-term maintenance of a hand-made, stone building like the Cathedral.

In the two years since the earthquake, the Cathedral has continued to serve as a spiritual home for the nation. Only days after the quake, the Cathedral brought the nation together to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11, ministering to the nation even as the building was closed.

The Cathedral continues to be a place of mourning and celebration. It has hosted the funerals of famous Americans like Neil Armstrong and Senator Daniel Inouye as well as notable Washingtonians such as William Raspberry and Joe Allbritton in addition to welcoming the nation for major services such as the fifty-seventh Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service marking President Obama’s second term. It served this summer as a place for the family and friends of Andrew Pochter, a young man killed while volunteering in Egypt, to mourn and remember.

Since the arrival of the Very Reverend Gary Hall as its tenth dean last October, the Cathedral has also provided a strong voice from the perspective of faith on issues of public life. Following its own announcement of a new same-sex wedding policy in January, the Cathedral lifted up the importance of equal rights for LGBT people and later celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, recognizing legal marriages between LGBT couples. In response to the Newtown shooting in December, the Cathedral brought the powerful voice of faith to the debate over the gun violence that devastates our urban centers and has robbed too many Americans of lives of promise. The Cathedral is currently poised to take part in the commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and continuing the fight for civil rights for all citizens in America’s representative democracy.

“This Cathedral is not just a building, it is an organization with a mission. Part of the missional life of this place is recovering and restoring our building from the earthquake damage from 2011, and part of it is serving as a spiritual home for the nation: a programmatic and missional institution serving the public good and the interfaith community, as well as the Christian community, in the nation’s capital,” said Dean Hall.

To mark the second anniversary of the earthquake, the Cathedral hopes to raise $50,000 from supporters. To learn more about the Cathedral’s restoration and to support its ongoing work, visit