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Battle of the Religious Stars! Battle of the Religious Stars!

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Battle of the Religious Stars!

Two of Washington's best-known houses of worship and George Washington's estate are competing–nicely!–for coveted building-preservation grants.

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Some of the damage to the National Cathedral from the 2011 earthquake. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

There is no fiercer competition than the one that’s happening in Washington right now.

Not the time-old spat between Democrats and Republicans. No, it’s between 24 historical places in the D.C. area, fighting for the chance to win hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore their treasured landmarks.

 

With just eight more days in the competition, which is sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express, the National Cathedral has taken a respectable lead among its rivals, with George Washington's estate in Mount Vernon, Va., and the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in downtown Washington not far behind. As each day passes, leaders of the different historical sites push for support.

“Vote early and often like they do in Texas, and you can certainly vote more than once like in Chicago,” said Richard Weinberg, the director of communications at the National Cathedral.

With $1 million in grants available through the Partners in Preservation program, different locations earn points through social media and online voting. The remainder of the funding is spread throughout the other sites by a committee of community leaders.

 

Why do these historic buildings need the funding? For the National Cathedral, it was because of one fateful day. On Aug. 23, 2011, the biggest earthquake to hit the region in more than a century struck, causing $20 million worth of damage to the building that graces the highest point in the District. As the cathedral's promotional video states, “Buttresses cracked, angels fell, and one unlucky gargoyle lost his head.”

Once donning the most apparent scaffolding in the area, it has since been bumped by the cocoon that currently wraps around the Washington Monument. The National Cathedral is asking for a $100,000 grant to fix the central tower and patch up loosened mortar in the vaulted ceilings of the building that took 83 years to finish, starting in 1907.

For Sixth & I, it’s the stained-glass windows, which have decorated the synagogue’s exterior since its founding in 1908. However, since its transition into a church 50 years later, and its transition once more into a synagogue in 2004, the windows have received little care and are currently in poor shape. Some of the glass panes are buckling, there are tiny holes in the glass, and the glass’s exterior is ill-protected.

“It will be a huge process and one that we definitely require the funding that we’re hoping to win,” said Development Associate Rachel Evenson, who led the grant effort for Sixth & I. The facility has a young Jewish membership and has hosted indie acts such as Ben Folds and Andrew Bird.

 

As for Mount Vernon, built in 1735, its large dining room is in need of major restoration.

It’s an impassioned competition that those inside the Beltway are all too familiar with—with a sprinkle of the uncomfortable feeling that is likely to occur when the hopefuls run into each other in such a small city. Last Friday, all of the competitors met for an event at Farragut Square.

“Everybody was really nice,” Evenson said. “It was a little bit awkward to be friendly with who is inherently your competitor. But we definitely shared notes…. It is sort of a friendly competition.”

Those "fighting words" were shared by the current leaders of the pack, as well. “I think the competition is a light-hearted, fun way to hopefully garner additional support for our restoration efforts,” said Weinberg. “Here in Washington, no matter who wins, what really won is the important preservation effort.”

Organizers say it is just a fun way to display the different locations’ unique offerings to the broader D.C. area. This current Washington saga could even make for another bad reality show.

Where is the Discovery Channel when you need it?

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