- Architectural Salvage
- Art Glass, Sculpture, Artwork & Furnishings
- Doors, Windows, Hardware
- Floors, Walls, Ceilings, Surface Finishes
- Landscapes, Streetscapes, Parks & Garden Fixtures
- Lighting & Electrical
- Masonry, Stone, Brick, Chimneys
- Molded & Cast Ornament
- Ornamental Metalwork
- Plumbing Fixtures, Heating
- Roofing & Roof Specialties
- Timber Frames, Conservatories, Special Construction
- Woodwork, Millwork, Stairs
- Click Here for Free Product Literature
Traditional Product Reports is a micro site containing in-depth information on traditional building products and materials, including checklists, directories, buying guides, case studies, stories, articles, primers, installation tips, and other information, along with thousands of links to companies serving the field.
In 1875, Boston architects Charles Brigham and John Hubbard Sturgis laid a cornerstone of modernism. At the tightly angled intersection of Brimmer and Mount Vernon Streets, on Boston's posh Beacon Hill, the architects broke ground for an Episcopal church that foreshadowed 20th-century designers' desire to integrate outside and inside and express function through form.
Sturgis & Brigham maintained the same palette and patterns throughout the Church of the Advent, from the nave recesses to the steep dormer tips: sandstone string courses and quoins create checkerboards on red brick, Gothic arches spring from hefty brackets. In the 1890s, the congregation hired Sturgis' architect nephew, R. Clipston Sturgis, to complete the west porch and bell tower in the same idiom. Over the next few decades, even as architectural connoisseurs lost their taste for anything remotely Victorian, Advent's high-contrast scheme remained popular. In a 1907 biography of Brigham, historian Oscar Fay Adams found fault with many of the firm's works but described Advent's sanctuary as "one of the most solemn and impressive of American church interiors."
The same congregation has steadily occupied and tended the building. Over the past few years, the group has spent $3.5 million redoing the masonry skin. More than affection spurred the fundraising campaign, however; a few times in the early 2000s, sandstone chunks fell from the façade and from the ceiling.
"We had to prioritize the project phases in terms of life safety first, then protection of historic fabric, dealing with anything that was actively leaking or structurally deficient, and then look at what else we should take on cost-effectively while the scaffolding was up," says Carl Jay, director of historic preservation at the project's construction manager, Shawmut Design and Construction. "We looked at the best treatment for each different material, and how to deal with them respectfully while still allowing for church services to go on, at least three times a day."
Brigham (1841-1925) and Sturgis (1834-1888) would have appreciated the restoration commitment of the craftspeople and congregation. Both men were pioneering preservationists: they restored 18th-century houses throughout the Boston area, and even bought and moved a hip-roofed 1770s house in Watertown that had stood in the path of a subdivision. The architects also revived an array of historic styles while designing churches, statehouses and mansions, including Georgian, French Renaissance, Baroque and Elizabethan. The Church of the Advent is considered a masterpiece partly because Sturgis & Brigham creatively blended precedents, mainly English. "The general design is odd and unique, giving to the building an individuality that is marked and noticeable," reported an 1895 guidebook to Boston architecture.
The structure continued to evolve well into the 1900s, at the hands of masterful designers and artisans. Christopher Whall, a British pioneer of Arts and Crafts stained glass, added sunburst-pattern clerestories and portraits of saints up to 20 ft. tall. Religious woodcarvings specialist Johannes Kirchmayer supplied finely detailed statues of saints, and Aeolian-Skinner installed a 4,529-pipe organ. "It's a magnificent, powerful building," says Jay. "And the congregation is incredibly informed about architecture and architectural history."
A blue-chip team of preservation consultants has collaborated on the project with Shawmut as well as architect Vance Hosford, a congregation member and Vermont-based designer of Arts and Crafts-inspired houses. Among the experts clambering around the church (plus the adjacent parish house, rectory and columbarium) have been Julie L. Sloan, a stained-glass historian and restorer based in North Adams, MA; rope-swinging inspection specialist Kent Diebolt of Vertical Access in Ithaca, NY; and Andrea Gilmore of the Dedham, MA, office of Building Conservation Associates.
A dozen serious ailments turned up in the masonry. "The mortar needed 100 percent repointing," Jay explains. Quoins and window surrounds were eroding, cinquefoils had lost their petals, and incompatible attempted patches had failed. The Munson slate roof tiles were holding their own, but their copper neighbors were failing. The roofline had also lost its stone crosses and most of its bizarre 1870s finials: copper ovoids sprouting clusters of tiny spheres. "I've worked on hundreds of churches, and I'd never seen forms like those," says Jay. "They look like seedpods, or maybe spaceships. But they were very deliberately, elegantly designed; the lower ones are larger, to make the spire look taller."
When Shawmut began its overhaul, scaffolding the complicated church mass (with Lanco Scaffolding of Somerville, MA) required multiple engineers. "We used steel-beam reinforcements on knee brackets extending from the tower to the roof and tied them in to spread the load into the tower itself," says Jay.
Even a seemingly minor restoration task like tinting the mortar (with Restoration Preservation Masonry of Northborough, MA) proved tricky: different shades were required for the granite base, brick, sandstone, terra-cotta gable ornaments and limestone steeple louvers. Each material called for different formulas of biodegradable cleaning solutions, all of which had to drain along tarps contoured to keep runoff away from neighbors in the upscale area. In fact throughout the project, Shawmut had to be careful to notify locals when to expect cranes, noise or dust. (The construction team meanwhile had to watch out for the Advent's cats, Jake and Jeoffry, who like to wander around scaffolding and sit in on job meetings.)
A few restoration steps did prove easier than expected, however. Sturgis & Brigham's original sandstone source, Wallace Quarries in Nova Scotia, is still open. Other stone patches came from the building itself. "We salvaged some pieces that had lost their profile but were still structurally sound," Jay says. "We re-cut and tooled them onsite for replacement quoins. There was no waste or transport of materials; it was cost-effective, and reduced our carbon footprint."
Not only is the exterior polychrome now eye-popping again, but also the roofline bristles with new crosses, which American Architectural Iron Co. of East Boston and Gilbert and Becker Roofing Co. of Dorchester, MA, fabricated according to Hosford's designs. Gilbert and Becker supplied new finials as well, and Boston Lightning Rod Co. upgraded a protection system that the 135-year-old company had installed at Advent in the 1870s.
Church leadership is now gearing up to fundraise for interior restoration. "The space has lost a lot of its original impact: the stone and woodwork need cleaning and restoration, there are some areas of obvious deterioration and open joints, but there are no major structural issues," says Jay. The interior flaws show up clearly now that the stained glass (restored by Cohoes Design Glass Associates of Cohoes, NY, and Serpentino Stained & Leaded Glass of Needham, MA) has been freed of aging acrylic layers.
"We estimate that $3 million would be needed for the interior restoration," says Jay. "We could phase it so that there would always be enough seating room for services to continue. We'll love to keep working on the building. And the exterior, we're comfortable now, is safe for the ages again."
«BACK TO DECEMBER 2008 TABLE OF CONTENTS
Have something to say about this article? Feel free to
No comments to display.