Christian Science Mother Church Being Restored

Boston landmark is in the midst of a 10-year, $10 million project to clean, repair, and protect it, inside and out

ON top of the graceful dome of The Mother Church, at a height of 224 feet, sits a huge, pineapple made of aluminum alloy, complete with lightning rod.

Originally made of carved limestone in 1906, this topmost feature of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, located in Boston's Back Bay, was replaced in 1933 when deep cracks were found. Since then, the aluminum pineapple has been windswept, snow-covered, rain-splashed, and peppered with air pollution. Result? A little weathering. No cracks.

But spreading out under the pineapple, the intricate, glazed terra-cotta dome of The Mother Church and the entire church complex are undergoing a major renovation and cleaning, the first in 40 years.

Even though the pineapple is sturdy and unmarked, severe weather, air pollution, and erosion have stained stone surfaces, encrusted cornices, and darkened exterior walls of the church. Water has slipped into small cracks and crevices, frozen, and expanded, widening the cracks or even splitting off small chunks of stone. Every inch of the surface must now be cleaned, checked, and repaired if necessary.

Some roofs need replacing. Hundreds of joints need to be repointed with mortar or recaulked, and leaks stopped. Stained-glass windows need to be releaded. During this summer and fall, the dome will be shrouded in netting and scaffolding for a score of workers in hard hats.

The complex exterior and interior restoration project will take an estimated 10 years, with funds provided by private contributions. To date, more than $3 million has been donated to the $10 million effort.

#Interior projects will be coordinated as exterior work is completed. For instance, organs in the Original Edifice and The Mother Church Extension (which has one of the largest organs in the world) will also be renovated. Painting of the interior of the dome will start once the exterior work is completed and leaks are stopped.

"The time had come to address a number of problems both on the original church and the larger church extension," says Ted Gutelius, the church's facilities manager, on a walking tour along the outside scaffolding and inside the church.

"We're also improving our fire-detection system with computers that will help isolate any possible problems," he says. Last summer, a small but smoky fire broke out in the extension. Smoke detectors alerted personnel to the problem, but efforts to locate it among dozens of possibilities took precious moments. (The fire was extinguished safely, without significant damage.)

Sandblasting, long a recognized practice in removing grit from buildings, is no longer used because it is so abrasive. High-pressure water spray is used now. Other liquid applications, known as "consolidants," actually strengthen the stone when applied by crystallizing stone dust. This method will be used on both edifices.

A study of the buildings by Washington University Technology Associates in St. Louis and Quinn Evans Architects in Ann Arbor, Mich., confirmed the need to restore the church exteriors. Work on the outside of the original church began in late 1990 by the General Preservation Corporation of Columbus, Ohio.

Since then, the north, south, and east sides of the church extension have been cleaned with high-pressure streams of water, then waterproofed with a sealer.

Work is now under way on the cupola of the main dome and portico. The extension, designed with Byzantine and Renaissance architectural motifs, has long been a floodlit landmark in Boston at night.

The original Mother Church, a Romanesque- style edifice built of New Hampshire granite and completed in 1894, has also been cleaned and waterproofed. By the end of the summer, the exterior work on both churches should be complete.

Skylights in the two half domes of the extension - covered with asphalt roofing to comply with blackout regulations in World War II - have been uncovered and repaired. Heavy sandblasted glass allows subdued light into the church auditorium. The 34 windows in the dome will be fitted with new storm coverings.

Work on the huge organ in the extension is under way. The vast clusters of organ pipes in the loft are grouped in eight divisions with up to 2,500 pipes in each group. The divisions have names such as Great Bombarde, Pedal, Solo, Swell, Choir, and Hauptwerk.

"The leather in the pneumatics of the organ is over 40 years old," says Mr. Gutelius, "but it is still the best material to use to absorb the variations of the air flow." All the divisions will be releathered.

When painting begins in the interior of the church dome, three divisions of the pipes will have to be removed from the loft temporarily.

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