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Christ Church

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1807–1966, Robert Alexander. 620 G St. SE
  • Christ Church

The earliest structure in the city built to serve an ecclesiastical purpose is the Episcopal church on Capitol Hill. For many years, Christ Church, the oldest and probably the first Gothic Revival structure in Washington, was cited as an example of the work of Benjamin Henry Latrobe. In actuality, the original section of Christ Church was designed by Robert Alexander, a member of the vestry, a builder, and Latrobe's chief contractor for the Navy Yard. As successive architects expanded the church structure beyond the simple original block, the Latrobe legend persisted and influenced the most recent rebuilding efforts.

The original 1807 block likely was a simple, hastily erected two-story Flemish bond brick structure that was distinguished for its pointed-arch windows and vaulted cove ceiling. Its service to the population that clustered near the Navy Yard won it the name “new church in the Navy Yard.” This original block is now sandwiched between the 1824 expansion to the north and the 1849 narthex and bell tower to the south. Stucco was applied to the narthex and bell tower in 1868, an exterior treatment that was extended to the entire structure by the end of the century.

In 1877–1878, architect William H. Hoffman Victorianized the structure by adding the elegant, slender cast-iron columns in the interior and the stained-glass windows around the exterior. In 1891, the central bell tower was raised and the interior adorned with frescoes. A successful practitioner of the Colonial Revival style, Washington architect Delos Smith in 1921 removed the frescoes and reformed the interior walls to resemble Venetian marble blocks. Finally, in 1955–1954, Horace W. Peaslee attempted to return the church to what was considered Latrobe's original intentions by simplifying the interior. He provided for simple plaster walls and ceiling and had the cast-iron columns painted white.

The present building bespeaks a Latrobian simplicity in its form. It is located far back from the sidewalk in a wide expanse of lawn. The most prominent feature, the bell tower, is punctuated with a projecting pointed-arch entrance vestibule flanked with small lancet windows. Small corner towers crown the main tower. Buttresses frame the bell tower and the narthex walls. At the fifth level of the tower is a large, circular stained-glass window composed of six circles surrounding a central one. The modest church structure masks the several additions to the rear that house the rectory, offices, parish hall, and support facilities.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee
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Citation

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Christ Church", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/DC-01-CN40.

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 262-263.

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