Archive for the ‘Churches’ category

Plans Submitted for Residential Conversion of Pittman’s Morton Street Church Building

July 8, 2015
The Trinity AME Zion Church in 1906, shortly after completion.

The Trinity AME Zion Church in 1906, shortly after completion.

Opal DC dba Morton Street Mews LLC recently filed their paperwork with the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) to convert architect William Sidney Pittman’s 1905 church at 777 Morton Street into housing as part of their Morton Street Mews project.

According to the application, the nature of the relief sought by the application is to allow an addition onto the church structure at the rear that would exceed the height limit in Section 330.7 of the Zoning Code.

The developer proposes to preserve and convert the existing structure into an apartment house. The entire original 1905 structure will be preserved and enhanced. The formstone that now covers the church building will be removed, and the south, east, and west elevations will be restored with brick to closely resemble their original appearance. All original architectural details on the front (south)  facade, such as the peaked roof and flanking turrets, will be retained. Additionally the gables on the west and east elevations of the original church will be retained and restored.

This BZA case is currently schedule to go before the Board sometime in September. A better idea of what is in store for the church can be seen in the drawings below.

Morton Street Mews church plans 2(Morton Street elevation.)

Morton Street Mews church plans 1(West elevation, facing Sherman Avenue.)

Morton Street Mews church plans 3(East elevation, facing the alley.)

Late 19th Century Stereoview Offers Rare View of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at Rock Creek Cemetery

October 21, 2014

Here’s another great 19th century photograph I was able to get of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (aka the Rock Creek Church). This photo likely dates to the 1870s or 1880s and is a good companion to the snapshot I posted on September 4, 2014, which dates to around 1899. But whereas that photo shows the church’s south elevation, this image shows the north elevation, or rear of the building.

As I noted in the earlier post, the church largely burned in 1921 and was rebuilt. While the new structure was able to keep and incorporate three of the original walls, the church that visitors are familiar with today is markedly different than the one that was familiar to visitors a century ago.

Rock Creek Church

Morton St. Mews Design Evolves in Interesting Way

September 12, 2014

I haven’t posted about OPaL’s Morton St. Mews project in a while. Overall, I like the direction it is going. Readers may recall that when news of this development was shared in February 2014, the vision included reconfiguring the modest church structure into 10 two-level condos. A drawing from that time showing how this would look is included below.

Morton Street Brownstones & Church

While the church structure — located at 777 Morton Street — is unassuming, it was later learned that it was designed by African-American architect William Sidney Pittman in 1905 and was his first Washington commission as a professional architect. OPaL is also aware of this significant architectural legacy and has revised their plans accordingly.


The revised renderings (above and below) show a more sensitive and interesting treatment of the notable structure. You can compare the design in the revised drawing with how the church originally looked here.

OPAL1402 Morton Elevation

Historic Photos of the 1921 Groundbreaking for Columbia Heights National Baptist Memorial Church

April 23, 2014
The National Baptist Memorial Church at 16th Street and Columbia Road.

The National Baptist Memorial Church at 16th Street and Columbia Road.

Recently I found three photos showing the groundbreaking ceremonies for the National Baptist Memorial Church located at Columbia Road and 16th Street, NW. I’ve often admired the building and am pleased that it is not only a landmark structure but also within the recently designated Meridian Hill Historic District.

Construction of the church began in 1921 with a groundbreaking ceremony on April 23rd (93 years ago today). The ceremony was attended by several hundred persons with the honor of turning the first spadeful of earth given to President Harding.

“The event was marked by a ceremony that was solemn, impressive, and brief” according to The Sunday Star.

SCAN0058(Looking south with Columbia Road in the background. Photo from author’s collection.)

President Harding made no speech at the event, but in speaking to the officials of the ceremonies, The Washington Post reported that Harding said “We can not have too many monuments to religious liberty and we can not have too much religion in this land.”

Harding used a brand new spade, tied with red, white and blue ribbons in turning out a neat square of ground. With accuracy and precision he marked the four corners of the square with the spade, dug it out with a single stroke and with another placed it in the toy express wagon of 8-year-old Gove Griffith Johnson, jr. the son of Rev. Gove Griffith Johnson, pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church which was incorporated into the new church upon completion. The boy then presented the President with a bouquet of flowers from the members of the church. President Harding, after greeting the officials, returned to the White House.

Below are two more images of the ceremonies from the Library of Congress collection.

Harding Groundbreaking 1

Harding Groundbreaking 2


Work Continues on Fisherman of Men Church

January 16, 2014

In reviewing applications for building permits this week, I noticed that the Fisherman of Men Church (below) has applied to install a canopy with the dimensions of 23.5′ by 3′  and 20′ by 5′.

Fisherman of Men Church

I presume this will be above their Georgia Avenue entrance and look similar to the rendering below:

This postcard provides an idea of what the updated Fisherman of Men church could look like

This postcard provides an idea of what the updated Fisherman of Men church could look like

Grace Meridian Hill Church Celebrating New Home with Jazz and Ice Cream Community Open House This Friday!

September 5, 2013
Click for printable version of the open house flyer.

Click for printable version of the open house flyer.

If you like Jazz, ice cream sundaes, and would like to help Grace Meridian Hill church celebrate their new home in the Mt. Rona Church building (13th and Monroe streets, NW) … you’ll want to consider attending their open house tomorrow night.

Grace Meridian Hill is a church that’s been meeting in the Dance Institute of Washington for the last 3 years. This Sunday they’re officially moving their meeting location to the historic Mt. Rona Baptist Church at 13th and Monroe streets. They’re pretty excited about the move, and about the chance to meet in such a historic neighborhood building.

On Friday evening, September 6th, they’re having an Open House and Jazz night featuring Attila Molnar (and friends) . It’s from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.  at the Mt. Rona Baptist Church. There will be Jazz, Pop, and maybe a little Funk music, and an ice cream sundae bar. They’re looking forward to a fun night and getting to meet their new community neighbors.

If you’re planning on going, print out the coupon below. It will grant you one free ice cream sundae.

Ice cream sundae coupon

Recent Improvements at the Fisherman of Men Church

August 2, 2013
The church is currently installing tree-like decorative features in its arched areas.

The church is currently installing tree-like decorative features in its arched areas.

If you haven’t walked past the Fisherman of Men Church (at 3641 Georgia) lately, you probably haven’t noticed their latest improvements. Currently, they are in the process of painting their arched entryways purple and installing what appear to be a tree-inspired decorative feature in the archways.

Readers may recall that the church is located in the former York Theater building, and that a recent historic landmark nomination of the building failed largely due to the Fisherman of Men’s opposition to the nomination despite a favorable HPO staff report recommending the nomination be approved.

I’d be curious to see what residents think about these improvements. Do these aesthetic changes to the York building enhance the Georgia Avenue streetscape?

Installation of new decorative features at the Fisherman of Men church, 3641 Georgia.

Installation of new decorative features at the Fisherman of Men church, 3641 Georgia.

Guest Editorial: D.C. Churches Beware!

July 29, 2013

As members of the community are aware, New Commandment Baptist Church recently sold their building at 625 Park Road to relocate outside Washington. I’ve been following this development as information has become available.

Today, I am including a guest editorial from Rev. Stephen Tucker of the New Commandment Baptist Church in which he addresses the difficulties churches face if they remain in Washington, including parking stresses which have been noted by others. He also addresses a snag the church discovered that was attached to a District grant that was later cancelled.

Below is Rev. Tucker’s editorial (click on image for larger, printable version):

D.C. churches beware

Former York Theater Building Fails to Achieve Landmark Designation

November 30, 2012

York Theater, 3641 Georgia, ca. 1920, courtesy Robert K. Headley

Despite  a very positive staff report recommending that the former York Theater building be designated as a historic landmark, the Historic Preservation Review Board decided against the nomination by a vote of 5 against, 3 in favor. Based on the comments of a few of those voting against the nomination, it appeared that the building’s history and importance to the development of the neighborhood was diminished in value simply because they did not think the building achieved a level of aesthetics they were looking for in a former theater building.

From the beginning the nomination was difficult due to the Fisherman of Men Church’s (the current owners) opposition to the nomination.While the nomination was not at odds with the stated goals and plans of the current renovations by the church, their opposition as stated at the hearing tended to boil down to this:

  1. As a property owner, what right did anyone have to tell them what to do with their property;
  2. How would they be impacted in the future by a landmark designation (in some of the comments, rooms for classes or even building higher on the property was mentioned, though no immediate plans are known); and,
  3. The church did not think it was appropriate to support a landmark nomination for a theater that was built in a white neighborhood and catered to white patrons, which in their opinion would glorify segregation.

Honestly, this last point disappoints me. While I have heard others state similar sentiments before, in a city like Washington where segregation once existed, one could argue that no building from the city’s segregate past should be preserved or protected as every building — black or white — was in response to segregation. Sometimes a historic structure is just that. Also, to protect sites that are only significant to one segment of the community and destroy the rest, in my opinion, diminishes the value of even the buildings that remain because they represent an incomplete and biased story.

In the case of the theater, there was nothing sinister on the part of owner Harry Crandall when he built it. He merely wanted a theater in every major section of Washington. Following the York, Crandall built the Lincoln to serve the African-American community on U Street. Unlike the York, the Lincoln achieved landmark status with significant support in the its community.


For Many Washington Churches, Cornerstones Reflect Altered History

October 18, 2012

As I read Clinton Yates’ recent Washington Post article ‘Columbusing’ Black Washington, it brought to mind something I’d noticed on several Washington area churches a while ago. Specifically — that many local churches do not have their original cornerstones. Instead, many buildings sport newer cornerstones representative of the current congregation that worships there.

This practice seems odd to me having grown up in a community where cornerstones are treated as born-on dates for buildings that have long since been put to other uses. Yet, in asking around I’ve been informed that this practice has been quite common in Washington and just something that churches do. It makes me curious as to if this is unique to Washington, a regional practice, or more widespread among the church community. While the loss of the original cornerstone obscures the earliest history of the structure, the later cornerstone can also tell interesting stories — especially when the stones include dates of organization.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at four churches in the Columbia Heights, Park View, and Petworth area.

Mt. Rona Missionary Baptist Church, located at 3431 Thirteenth Street, NW

Mt. Rona Missionary Baptist Church — located on the southeast corner of 13th and Monroe Streets, NW — is one of the more obvious examples. This building has both the original (though defaced) cornerstone and a later one dating to 1980 which documents when the current congregation moved to the location. Mt. Rona’s Web site provides a general history of the current church.

Old and new cornerstones at Mt. Rona

The building dates to 1917 and was originally constructed for the First Reformed Church. First Reformed Church was organized in Washington on December 25, 1867 and worshiped in a small wooden church located at 6th and N Streets, NW. That building was in turn replaced in 1891 and included a dedication ceremony conducted in German.

The building at 13th and Monroe streets broke ground in June 1917 with the expectation that it would be completed by the end of the year at a cost of $38,000. It was designed by Charles W. Bolton & Sons of Philadelphia using local contractor W.A. Kimmel.

New Commandment Baptist Church at 625 Park Road, NW

If one were to look at the small unassuming church located at 625 Park Road, NW, one could easily mistake the building as dating to 1905 based on its cornerstone. It actually dates to 1920 and was built to replace the old Whitney Avenue Christian Church built in 1877. At that time, it was among the oldest landmarks in Park View. Upon completion, the $30,000 structure was renamed the Park View Christian Church. The original building did not have a cornerstone.

The congregation of the Park View Christian Church eventually moved to Shepherd Park and was replace by Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church  in 1944.

The cornerstone at 625 Park Road neither reflects the original nor current congregation.

Presumably, the cornerstone installed by Trinity was brought from their former building located at the intersection of Monroe Street and Sherman Avenue. The structure supported Trinity’s congregation until 1983, when Trinity moved to its current location on 16th Street.

Following Trinity A.M.E. Zion, the church served the congregation of Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church (now located at 610 Rhode Island Ave. in the old Evangel Cathedral). In 1995 Mt. Calvary sold the building to the New Commandment Baptist Church.

Current cornerstone at the First Baptist Church, 712 Randolph Street, NW

The cornerstone at Petworth’s First Baptist Church shows indications that it replaced a slightly larger stone when the church relocated to the building in 1958. Their Web site provides further details on their history.

Originally, the building was the home of the Wallace Memorial United Presbyterian Church. The building was designed by Charles W. Bolton & Sons of Philadelphia and built by W. E. Mooney at a cost of $45,000 in 1915. The main Gothic style structure consisted of the auditorium and a wing to the east containing a ladies’ parlor and Sunday school rooms. The $60,000 addition to the south was added in 1926.

Wallace Memorial Church moved to West Hyattsville in 1958.

The former Wallace Memorial United Presbyterian Church at New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Street, NW

The current cornerstone at the Israel Metropolitan CME Church

The church building at 557 Randolph Street, NW, has served the Israel Metropolitan CME Church since January 1963 according to its cornerstone. Prior to that it served for many years at the Petworth Baptist Church, which organized January 5, 1913.

The building was constructed in two phases. The eastern half was built in 1914. The 200 seat chapel was designed by Speiden & Speiden architects at a cost of $20,000.

Work began on the western half of the building in 1922 with the laying of the cornerstone on September 30th. The $100,000 addition was designed to match the existing structure by Charles W. Bolton and Sons. It provided seating for 700 persons.

Below are photos of the church today and the original 1922 cornerstone ceremony.

The Israel Metropolitan CME Church building today

Original cornerstone laying, Petworth Baptist Church September 30, 1922


%d bloggers like this: