Washington National Cathedral officially begins restoration phase

One year after quake Lilly Endowment grants $5 million to jumpstart work

Posted Aug 23, 2012

[Washington National Cathedral] One year after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake devastated intricate architectural elements on its three high towers, Washington National Cathedral announced Aug. 23 its first major restoration gift — a $5 million grant from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. — that will allow the Cathedral officially to move from the completed stabilization phase into active restoration and continued fundraising.

With the gift, the Endowment sends a clarion call to Americans across the country to respond as it has in supporting the cathedral’s restoration efforts. The new phase enabled by the grant focuses on repairing damaged stonework and preserving the cathedral for future generations, allowing the cathedral to invest soon in critical components including the extensive scaffolding and crane necessary for repairs.

“The earthquake that took place one year ago today damaged several tons of beautiful and structurally important limestone elements, carved by hand over the course of several decades,” said the Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade, interim dean of the cathedral. “The Cathedral’s mission has remained intact, however, and that is to serve as the spiritual home for the nation. After a year’s time we have a long way still to go toward full restoration, but we also have countless individuals, organizations, and houses of worship to thank that have shared their belief in the work of this sacred place — and I have no doubt that they would join me in gratitude for this major restoration grant. The Lilly family played a key role in this iconic building’s construction and ultimate completion, and today the Endowment leads the charge in preserving it for future service.”

“The cathedral’s restoration is essential if it is to continue to serve as the place where so often our country honors the lives of our heroes and leaders, expresses our gratitude to God for our blessings, and offers our prayers for guidance, wisdom, strength, forgiveness, and generosity of spirit,” said N. Clay Robbins, president and CEO of the Endowment. “Eli Lilly, one of the Endowment’s founders, and his wife Ruth were devoted to the National Cathedral and provided major support for the Cathedral’s northwest St. Peter Tower decades ago. The endowment is pleased to honor and continue this legacy of support by awarding the grant to help launch such an important restoration effort.”

Following the announcement of the grant, the Cathedral’s stonemasons formally began repairs to the Cathedral’s grand pinnacles atop the “Gloria in Excelsis” central tower, the highest point in the nation’s capital. Using the “Dutchman repair” technique, masons set a newly carved crocket stone (matching original contours and design) into the portion of the southwest pinnacle damaged from the earthquake.

Stonemasons have been working over past year to remove, repair, or replace damaged stones in the workshop, but the Aug. 23 repair was the first significant restoration work done on the building’s structure. All prior work on the towers has been to stabilize damaged stone and map the extent of the damage.

“While we are overwhelmed by the generosity we have received, we know that we face a significant challenge in raising all the funding we will need for complete restoration and overall long-term preservation,” said Wade. “Yet in the last year, I am proud to note the Cathedral has been entrusted with nearly $8 million in support, including this latest generous gift from the Lilly Endowment. Our needs for complete earthquake recovery and historic preservation continue to exceed $50 million in total, but we understand the importance of fulfilling our mission of serving the nation in its times of both joy and sorrow. We pray for perseverance to continue that work while also taking care of the building entrusted to us by previous generations.”

In the interest of responsibly stewarding the gifts it has received, and to complete all the necessary preservation work in a way that makes both fiscal and logistical sense, the Cathedral created a special Restoration Task Force following the earthquake to oversee the process of deploying the funding for restoration. Chaired by Christopher Gladstone, president of Quadrangle Development Corp., the volunteers serving on the task force are experts in architecture, engineering, and construction and are in the process of finalizing a complete report for Cathedral leadership by this fall.

Also bolstering the Cathedral’s efforts is a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which designated the Cathedral a “national treasure” this year and recently awarded support for a seismic study to prepare the Cathedral for future earthquake activity. The goal of the partnership — which is significantly advanced by the Lilly Endowment’s generosity — is to create a sustainable path for the Cathedral’s ongoing preservation.

“The National Trust for Historic Preservation is proud to partner with both the National Cathedral and the Lilly Endowment to bring awareness to the damage caused by the earthquake of August 2011 and the pressing preservation needs facing this irreplaceable building,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The National Trust is committed to providing its expertise in preservation to aid the National Cathedral’s restoration. Our goal is to ensure that Cathedral remains a vibrant and beautiful place of refuge for all people.”

Photos of the Aug. 23 repair work will be posted on the Cathedral’s website and be available for download.