- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2005

The year was 1913. Woodrow Wilson was in the White House, there was no such thing as a Beltway, and a tornado struck the nation’s capital, damaging the steeple of a downtown church.

It took some time — 92 years, to be exact — but this weekend, repairs are being made at Calvary Baptist Church at Eighth and H streets NW.

The church made a deal with local developers, selling its parking lot and some other land in return for $10 million. The money is going toward a new education building and some long-awaited preservation of the 1867 church sanctuary.

The Penn Quarter neighborhood has been abuzz with development projects, mostly bringing new housing, offices and retail to the neighborhood.

“This renovation and construction is a symbol for the rejuvenation of our neighborhood and how important it is for a downtown congregation to be part of that rebirth,” said the Rev. Amy K. Butler, the church’s senior pastor.

The congregation traditionally comes from the suburbs, but a diverse group of young, urban professionals increasingly fills the pews on Sundays, she said.

Miss Butler, 34, calls it a good fit for her as one of the few women leading Baptist churches, and she sees the new steeple as a monument to the changes inside the church.

A storm deformed the original cast-iron spire, leaving only the clock tower intact. But it too was taken down in 1949 after a lightning strike damaged the building. Church leaders wanted to keep the tower lower than the crest of the roof.

Architects replicated the original steeple from an 1865 photo by legendary Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. The aluminum and fiberglass structure topped by a cross will be a new point on the city skyline, stretching to a height of 160 feet — well above surrounding buildings.

The spire is scheduled to be installed today — Abraham Lincoln’s birthday — at the church originally formed by abolitionists.

Developer Trammell Crow purchased the adjacent land for an office building and retail development that opens in April.

“We sat and tried to figure out what is the win-win on this site,” said Charles Dalluge, managing principal for architecture firm Leo A. Daly, which did the design work for the church and the commercial project.

“It seems like kind of that pivotal time when we can have the church restored, help them to more fully provide for their mission and do it at a time, kind of, at the rebirth of the downtown area,” he said.


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