Preserving Cenla: Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alexandria

Preserving Cenla: Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alexandria
Megan Lord

Amidst the comings and goings of the congregation and day school students, a flurry of construction activity has occurred at Emmanuel Baptist Church during the past few months.  About two years ago, the church properties committee began assessing and prioritizing the building maintenance needs of this historic downtown church.  From church staff to local contractors to international stained glass experts, preservation efforts have been a joint affair, resulting in the beautification and stabilization of this historic church complex.


Most recently, Botti Studio for Architectural Design of Chicago completed work on the stained glass and rose windows that adorn Emmanuel’s gothic revival sanctuary.  Following preservation practices in the 1980s, Emmanuel, like many churches trying to protect their stained glass, installed lexan coverings on the exterior of their windows.  In the thirty years since, the lexan has yellowed and clouded, obscuring the view of the windows from the exterior.  In addition, micro-climates created by air trapped between the lexan covering and original stained glass, have caused buckling and bulging in several windows.  As a stop-gap mitigation until the lexan can be removed and replaced with a more appropriate protective covering, Botti Studio vented all lexan covers to inhibit the micro-climate effect and prevent further deterioration of the stained glass.


Preserving Cenla: Emmanuel Baptist Church in AlexandriaBotti Studio performed additional work to preserve the church’s beloved rose window.  The studio removed all lexan covering from the rose window and replaced the failing sealant to prevent moisture intrusion.  Corroded re-bar beneath the cast stone tracery caused large chunks of cast stone to crumble off the window. Botti Studio carefully repointed the cast stone frame and molded sections of infill tracery to replicate the original design, resulting in a beautifully restored rose window and a brighter sanctuary.


Less glamorous, but equally as important preservation work fell into the capable hands of building superintendent Butch Berry, who meticulously restored all of the original wood windows on the preschool building.  Local contractor James Decker patched and painted failing plaster in the sanctuary choir loft and balcony stairwells.  The church will utilize historic preservation tax credits to continue their work.  As properties committee chair Mary Striegel states, “The preservation work we are undertaking on the church property is a sometimes slow process, but [we] hope that we will leave the church in a better condition for future generations.”


For their insight and example, the Alexandria Historic Preservation Commission honors Emmanuel Baptist church with our December 2012 Preservation in Progress award.