National Cathedral Still Shaken by Earthquake That Struck 2 Years Ago

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National Journal
Courtney McBride
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Courtney McBride
Aug. 22, 2013, 3:01 p.m.

It was two years ago Fri­day that a rare earth­quake shook the na­tion’s cap­it­al, leav­ing most build­ings in the Wash­ing­ton area un­harmed but tak­ing a toll on two of the city’s most icon­ic struc­tures — the Wash­ing­ton Monu­ment and the Na­tion­al Cathed­ral.

Perched atop Mount St. Al­ban and vis­ible from most points in the city, the cathed­ral sus­tained sig­ni­fic­ant dam­age, from the crack­ing of rooftop fini­als to the top­pling of pin­nacles and the open­ing of cracks in fly­ing but­tresses of the apse.

Much like the monu­ment, the soar­ing Goth­ic edi­fice re­mains shrouded in scaf­fold­ing two years after the quake. Cathed­ral ad­min­is­trat­ors out­lined the pro­gress of the res­tor­a­tion ef­forts dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Thursday. From the unique vant­age point of a “dance floor” plat­form 60 feet above the west bal­cony over the cathed­ral’s nave, the mag­nitude of the task is clear: The nave stretches ap­prox­im­ately one-tenth of a mile.

One year ago, ma­sons placed one of the first stones to be re­paired atop the cent­ral tower. An­drew Hullinger, seni­or dir­ect­or of fin­ance and ad­min­is­tra­tion, noted that the move was largely sym­bol­ic, as “we’ve done very little work up there since then.” In­stead, the fo­cus has shif­ted to­ward a com­pre­hens­ive as­sess­ment of the scope of the dam­age and to plan­ning for res­tor­a­tion.

Even the scaf­fold­ing on the ex­ter­i­or of the apse is part of the on­go­ing as­sess­ment, rather than act­ive re­pair work. The dance-floor scaf­fold above the west bal­cony, Hullinger ex­plained, “rep­res­ents the very first phase of a pro­ject to fully in­spect and re­pair the in­teri­or vault­ing.” The in­teri­or res­tor­a­tion ef­forts are ex­pec­ted to take as long as 18 months.

Ac­cord­ing to Hullinger, the es­tim­ated cost of re­pair­ing the dam­age now totals $26 mil­lion, of which $10 mil­lion has been raised. This sum in­cludes a $5 mil­lion grant from the Lilly En­dow­ment, as well as $100,000 from Part­ners in Pre­ser­va­tion through a con­test sponsored by the Na­tion­al Trust for His­tor­ic Pre­ser­va­tion and fun­ded by Amer­ic­an Ex­press.

In ad­di­tion to the dam­age caused by the earth­quake, Hullinger em­phas­ized that $36 mil­lion in fa­cil­it­ies work re­mains in the cathed­ral and oth­er build­ings on the grounds. “Pre­ser­va­tion is an on­go­ing and seem­ingly nev­er-end­ing pro­cess,” he noted. To date, the cathed­ral has spent ap­prox­im­ately $3 mil­lion, or 12 per­cent of the ex­pec­ted total, on the res­tor­a­tion ef­forts.

Head ma­son Joe Alonso ex­plained that the cathed­ral’s roof “rattled” dur­ing the quake, scat­ter­ing “debris fields” of bits of stone and mor­tar on the floor of the nave and else­where.

While the ceil­ing was deemed struc­tur­ally sound, net­ting was strung along the length of the nave to pre­vent ad­di­tion­al ma­ter­i­al from fall­ing. In the com­ing weeks and months, en­gin­eers will as­sess the ex­tent of the dam­age to the in­teri­or of the nave, and stone­ma­sons will be­gin the ne­ces­sary re­pairs, from tuck-point­ing to the pos­sible re­place­ment of any severely dam­aged stone. While the plat­form is in place, work­ers can also clean the stained-glass win­dows and ad­dress cos­met­ic is­sues such as stain­ing of the stone due to pri­or roof leaks.

Com­mu­nic­a­tions Dir­ect­or Richard Wein­berg al­luded to the fact that the earth­quake dam­age has di­ver­ted at­ten­tion from the cathed­ral’s “ef­forts to ad­vance the cause of justice, equal­ity, and civil rights.” He con­tin­ued, “The soon­er we can re­store the cathed­ral’s earth­quake dam­age, the soon­er we’ll be able to provide the space for big dreams and im­port­ant dia­logue we’re known for — without dis­trac­tions.”

The cathed­ral, which serves as “the spir­itu­al home for the na­tion,” is of­fi­cially known as the Cathed­ral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the prin­cip­al church in the Epis­copal Dio­cese of Wash­ing­ton. In its broad­er role, the cathed­ral will be tak­ing part in a num­ber of events next week com­mem­or­at­ing the 50th an­niversary of the March on Wash­ing­ton.

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