A Brief History of the Washington Family Church National
Cathedral Building at 1610 Columbia Rd NW Washington, DC
“I encourage you to have new pride and new confidence. This building has finally met its master, finally met the people who truly love it. This edifice will feel excitement because for the first time it will truly serve the purpose of God.”
True Father, December 4, 1977
The history of the Family Federation for World Peace National Cathedral Family Church began on April 9, 1924 when Mrs. John B. Henderson sold a vacant lot at 16th St. and Columbia Road NW to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons, for $54,000. This acquisition was the birth of the to-be-constructed Mormon temple in the District of Columbia, something that had been planned by the followers of the late Joseph Smith.
The deed was dated April 9, 1924, transferring the property from Mrs. Henderson to Heber Grant as trustee for the Church. Seven years later, on June 1, 1931, the building permit was issued to the Mormons and construction began. The church was constructed by a local builder, William P. Lipscomb Company at an estimated cost of $275,000.00.
The architects were Mormon: Don Carlos Young, a grandson of Brigham Young, and Ramm Hansen, a Norwegian immigrant. They designed a steel structure covered in concrete and enveloped in “Birdseye marble” quarried in Utah from the summit of a mountain 9000 feet high, in what is now the Manti-La Sal National Forest in the mountains more than 60 miles south of Salt Lake City. The blocks of stone were hauled on mountain roads four miles to the base of a canyon 3000 feet below, this being done in the early 1930’s utilizing the technology and transportation of that era, namely, 20 railcars cross country. The quarried stone produced 16,404 blocks for the exterior of the building.
The cornerstone for the chapel was laid in April, 1932 with Senator Reed Smoot, the first U.S. Senator from Utah of the Mormon faith, as one of the speakers. A year and a half later, on November 5, 1933, the chapel was dedicated following Mormon custom of completely paying for the building before it was dedicated.
An article in The Boston Evening Transcript about the church building described the chapel at the time of dedication, “The marble has a satin hone finish and at different times of the day reflects various hues. After a heavy rain the effect is that of highly polished marble which changes, as it dries, into hazy purple.” Sadly, the stone no longer matches this description. From a distance, it remains a handsome tan/grey appearance. Up close, the surface is deeply lined and cracked with fissures. The wear and erosion have, however, highlighted the rounded shapes of millions of years old uncoils.
The severe surface wear has been attributed to acid rain and the persistent presence of automobile exhaust from the commuter artery of 16th St. Interestingly, the geologic tour of Salt Lake City posted on the website of the Utah Geological Survey describes two buildings as using “Birdseye marble” – both for interior walls.
There were unique characteristics designed into this building. Over the main entrance is a mosaic depicting Christ on the Mount of Olives. It was the work of Mahonri Young, another grandson of Brigham Young. The nine large round arched windows in the sanctuary contain stained glass of unusual design. At the top of each one is a circular panel of colored glass devoted to geographical and Mormon church history subjects. Below, the windows are divided into rectangular sections of clear stippled glass, interspersed with colored glass panels depicting state flowers.
The church building was in use for 42 years until August 31, 1975, when the last Mormon service was held in the Washington chapel. Changes in the neighborhood, the growing needs of the Mormon community, and the prospect of costly repairs to the walls, led to the end of services in 1975 and the sale of the chapel, which was purchased by the Unification Church in 1977. The Mormons constructed a new, larger chapel in suburban Bethesda – a structure that also provides a visible reference to the temple in Salt Lake City. The church building stood vacant for two years, and then sold to Columbia Road Recording Studios, Inc. on September 8, 1977, for $300,000. The next day, on September 9, the building was sold to HSA-UWC for $475,000. Before the building was turned over to its new owner, the statue of the angel Moroni was taken down and moved to the new temple along the Beltway, and the contents of the cornerstone were removed.
Much restoration and construction was required to bring the church back to life and in conformity with the intended new use. Gallons of paint were applied to the interior, areas that were neglected from non-use had to be cleaned, carpet was laid in True Parents’ apartment and stairway, floors repaired and waxed, moldings were installed, woodwork stripped and refinished, a $30,000 kitchen installed, columns and railings were covered, a bronze sign for the outside was created, and the basketball court below the banquet hall/stage was eliminated through the installation of an intermediate concrete floor above the original wooden court, thus creating the dining area below the sanctuary.
Possibly the most dramatic event during the intense 3 month restoration project was the placement of the Unification symbol atop the tower where the statue of the angel Moroni once stood. Two brave members climbed the ladder secured into the stones leading to the apex of the tower, which stands 250 feet in the air, and installed the 250 pound symbol suspended from a crane onto a steel chassis secured into place by stainless steel bolts. The restoration was completed in time for the December 4, 1977 dedication by True Parents.
We are raising funds to rebuild this temple and your contributions are welcome.
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