Fresh Face for a Church Edifice

A renovation project at The Mother Church aims to combat decades of weather and pollution

WHEN the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Boston Public Library, and countless other now-historical buildings were erected, nothing marred their beauty.

But time, pollution, weather, and other factors have taken a toll on these architectural treasures, often necessitating extensive restoration efforts.

One such effort is under way at The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston's Back Bay.

Twelve years after the Original Edifice was built in 1894, a larger Extension was constructed next to it. Since then, sooty grime has darkened both churches' facades. Their roofs need replacing and their stained-glass windows need repair.

In 1987, church officials commissioned a comprehensive study by restoration professionals at Washington University Technology Associates in St. Louis and Quinn Evans/Architects in Ann Arbor, Mich., that pinpointed what needed to be renovated. Work, which began in 1990, is expected to take another five to eight years at an estimated total cost of $10 million. Most work on the Original Edifice is expected to be completed by late July.

Ilene Tyler, an associate with Quinn Evans and the main architect for the project, says a growing number of architects are getting involved in church preservation. ``Churches are one of the most important buildings in a community to be restored,'' Ms. Tyler says. ``Within the profession there is an acknowledgment that religious architecture is to be preserved and honored as a [building type], so there are a lot of architects who take an interest and specialize in religious architecture.''

At The Mother Church, results of conservation efforts so far are most visible on the limestone and granite north facade and dome where the black grime has been removed. Vehicle exhaust, coal-burning industries, and acid rain have been the main sources of pollutants, says Ted Gutelius, manager of the facilities-management division at The Mother Church. Workers used watersprays to remove the dirt on the limestone and then used a waterproofing compound to prevent future dirt from sticking.

Other completed work includes:

* Replacement of the Extension's main roof, including the half-domes and entry roofs.

* Replacement of the skylights in the two half-domes, which have been covered with asphalt roofing since World War II.

* The first stage of exterior lighting on the Extension dome, including relamping all domes and half-domes.

Two-thirds of the project still awaits completion:

* Cleaning and restoring the stonework on the Original Edifice.

* Replacing the deteriorating sheet acrylic that protects the outside of the stained-glass windows.

* Cleaning, and in some instances, releading the stained-glass windows.

* Restoring and cleaning the Extension's three remaining facades and south half-dome.

* Completing new exterior lighting.

* Painting and refurbishing the interiors and releathering the organ.

* Restoring the Extension's cupola.

* Completing a carillon on the Original Edifice's bell tower.

Tyler, whose firm works on many churches around the country, says one thing that makes this particular project unique is that the work is actually in process. In the beginning ``an evaluation of conditions had been done to lay out the options for treatment as well as a strategy for phasing the work out over 10 years. To see that actually being implemented based on the original study is significant because that's the way it's supposed to be done,'' she says.

``As architects we often do studies that don't get carried out or if they do ... there may be a period of five years where they're thinking about whether or not they'll commit to it. It's really satisfying to see it happen in that logical sequence.''

What prompted the 1987 study was a general recognition that the church needed to be cleaned and many roofs needed to be replaced.

``The Mother Church has not had any major renovation work done since the 1950s when they retiled the main dome, so it was getting to be 40 years when they started looking at this,'' says Robert McNaught, construction project manager.

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