A More Perfect Union - Quote of the Week

"If I am shot at, I want no man to be in the way of the bullet."

-Andrew Johnson

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Washington Mormon Chapel

16th Street & Harvard Square, NW
dedicated 1933

[This building is currently owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church]

by Buckley Jeppson

The old Washington Mormon Chapel is described in the American Institute of Architecture’s Guide to the Architecture of Washington D.C. as “one of the most elegant small churches in the city.”

The building, dedicated in 1933, was distinguished in three areas: exterior design, interior design, and works of art. The building is an unusual design for a Mormon chapel in that it was designed to serve as a symbol of the Church in the nation’s capital as well as to provide physical facilities for Church activities.

Patterned after one spire of the Salt Lake Temple, the building was designed by Don Carlos Young and Ramm Hansen, who also designed the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City and the Church’s Arizona Temple dedicated five years earlier. The Washington Post wrote that “the church is designed to become a monument to Mormonism in the National Capital, and it will be one of the finest buildings for chapel use that the followers of Joseph Smith have ever erected.”

Utah Senator Reed Smoot appealed directly to Mrs. Mary Henderson, Widow of Senator John Henderson of Missouri to purchase the land. She sold the lot to the Church in 1924. The building was constructed of Utah birds eye marble, a material which has caused maintenance problems in Washington’s damper climate.

The small lot available made it difficult to include all the usual elements of a Mormon chapel. This caused the interior design to be as unique as the exterior. A chapel is the focus of the first floor, with an amusement hall and stage behind. Doors between the two halls allow for a doubling of the chapel’s seating capacity. The plan was innovative, in 1933, but later became the standard Mormon chapel plan.

The building, however, contained two other floors below ground level. Below the amusement hall is a two story gymnasium (to provide enough room to play basketball.) A mezzanine surrounds the gymnasium at the one story level, providing both a balcony for viewing sporting events one story below, and serving as a hall to adjacent classrooms. Directly under the chapel is a Junior Sunday School room and additional classrooms. One floor below, on the lowest level, a scout room, mechanical rooms, and dressing rooms surround the playing floor of the gymnasium.

Contemporary reports claimed that the building was the first fully air conditioned church in Washington, and one claimed it was “probably the first chapel in America to be air-cooled.” The design also provided living accommodations for the Church custodian. All in all, the design provides a remarkable use of a small building lot.

The building also contained many works of art. Thorlief Knapsus’s sculpture of the Angel Moroni (since removed) capped the spire, making it the only chapel in the Church with a statue of the Angel Moroni on top. The building contains a mosaic panel “The Sermon on the Mount,” by Mahonri Young, and stained glass windows depict Utah wild flowers and the Hill Cumorah. The building contains a fine 5,000 pipe organ and for years had an original portrait of Church President Heber J. Grant.

The 1933 dedication of the building was a memorable occasion befitting a temple rather than a chapel. Three thousand people attended. The entire first Presidency (Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, and J. Reuben Clark) and five of the twelve Apostles were present. President Roosevelt was invited, but could not come.

Tabernacle organist Edward Kimball was called as organist for the Washington Chapel and during the next four years gave more than 1,000 organ recitals. Additionally, tabernacle organists Roy M. Darley and Alexander Schreiner later were called to play organ recitals on the building’s fine pipe organ.

For over 40 years the building served as the symbol of the Church in the nation’s capital. The Washington Stake was organized during a 1940 conference in the building. President Benson served as stake president in the building. Later, Apostle Matthew Cowley was ordained a high priest in the building while being set apart as Sunday School President by Reed Smoot while Cowley was a Washington student. The chapel was the scene of much of the history of Mormonism in Washington from 1933 until 1976.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently toured the building, accompanied by a gracious member of the Unification Church. The building is still magnificent, although certainly showing its age and lots of deferred maintenance. If the walls could speak...