History and Architecture
History of the Church
The Swedenborgian congregation of Washington, DC, was first organized in
1846. Its first permanent home was a church building located on North
Capitol Street, between B and C streets on Capitol Hill. Fire destroyed that
building in February 1889. After the fire, the congregation used the
National Law School building (on 13th Street near I) and then the Chapel of
the Holy Cross (near Dupont Circle) until a new church could be built.
Plans were developed to
create a new building that would raise the profile of the small,
little-known denomination. From its earliest planning, the structure was
expected to become the national church, and so the design was meant to
reflect both the intended use and the doctrine of the denomination.
At the time, many Christian
denominations were building grand edifices in the nation's capital, many
along 16th Street NW, to serve as their national church. A site for the new
Swedenborgian church was selected on 16th Street, just blocks from the White
House. Prominent Swedenborgian architect H. Langford Warren was selected to
create a new home for the local congregation that would also serve as the
National Swedenborgian Church.
The corner-stone of the
Church was laid December 1894, and the building was dedicated in May, 1896.
The Parish House, with its octagonal vestibule and circular stairway, was
built in 1912.
Architecture of the Church
The style of the church is English Perpendicular Gothic, with an
asymmetrical design focused on the prominent corner tower. The tower is
intricately detailed with pinnacles at each corner, crenellations,
battlements, and pointed arches. The exterior is composed of rough-cut
Bedford Indiana limestone with a light gray tint; the trim is the same
material with a smooth finish.
There are beautiful carvings
on the outside stonework, especially the rose garland around the tower door,
the corbels under the window caps, and the gargoyles which project from the
corners of the roof and water courses.
The interior of the church is
striking because of its simplicity relative to the ornate exterior design.
The highly symmetrical interior remains largely unchanged from the original
construction. The variety of materials is somewhat unusual, for instance,
the ceiling is wood joined by iron expansion tie-rods. The floor of the nave
is heart pine, whereas the floor of the chancel is aggregated marble with
Architects and Builders
The designing architect was H. Langford Warren, Professor of Architecture at
Harvard, and a member of the Swedenborgian Church. Paul J. Pelz served as
the supervising architect; during construction of the church he was
simultaneously working on the main Library of Congress building. Spier and
Co. was the builder and Lane and Melnati the stoneworkers.
Dupont Circle Citizens
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Kohler, Sue A., and
Carson, Jeffrey R., eds. 1978. Sixteenth Street Architecture, Vol. I.
Washington, DC: United States Commission of Fine Arts.
Weeks, Christopher. 1994.
AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C., third edition.
Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.