Historic Preservation


The story of Holy Trinity Cathedral begins in 1861, when the Rev. James Theodore Holly comes to Haiti from the United States, bringing the presence and ministry of the Episcopal Church to this island country.

Bishop Alfred Lee of Delaware, a staunch advocate of Fr. Holly and the ministry of the Church in Haiti, said at the time, “It will not be worthwhile to prosecute the Mission [in Haiti] without suitable buildings. A convenient and appropriate church is a sine qua non, and accommodation for schools and a residence, for one missionary, at least, is of the first importance.”

So on May 24, 1863, Fr. Holly establishes Holy Trinity Parish in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital city.  In 1874, Fr. Holly is consecrated the first missionary bishop to Haiti and the first African-American bishop in the entire Episcopal Church; and as a result, Holy Trinity becomes Bishop Holly’s cathedral.  Keep in mind that during this period of time, the vast majority of buildings in Port-au-Prince and all of Haiti are built of wood and thatch.  Consequently, on a number of occasions throughout Bishop Holly’s ministry, Port-au-Prince suffers a series of devastating fires—1866, 1873, 1888 and 1908.  And in each of these instances, Holy Trinity is destroyed.

But if one thing can be said, it’s that surely resilience is a defining character trait of the Haitian people.  That’s because each time the Cathedral is destroyed, the people rebuild it once again.

Bishop Holly will go on to serve the Haitian people until his death in 1911.

In 1923, the Rev. Harry R. Carson becomes the second Episcopal Bishop of Haiti.  In the years between Bishop Holly’s death and the consecration of Bishop Carson, Haiti goes through a series of political upheavals that trample the lives of the people and impede the mission of the Church.  As the political situation stabilizes and Bishop Carson is brought in to assume responsibility, he rightfully re-establishes Port-au-Prince as the center from which all of the Episcopal Church’s mission work will flow.  Bishop Carson recalls the words of Bishop Lee, from a half-century earlier that a suitable building is essential for carrying out the mission of the Church, and he calls for a new substantial Cathedral to be built.  In 1924, the Haitian architects Daniel and Philippe Brun design the new Holy Trinity Cathedral and on January 6, 1929, the Cathedral is dedicated.

In 1949, Haiti celebrates the bicentennial of Port-au-Prince and uses the event to promote the vitality of Haitian art.  The Episcopal Church invites Haitian artists to paint murals on the interior walls of Holy Trinity Cathedral under the guidance of the renowned Centre d’Art.  On March 9, 1950, the murals behind the altar are competed and dedicated.  The remaining murals are completed by April 1951.  Recognized throughout the world for their artistic and cultural merit, these murals depict various stories from the Bible using people of African heritage as the characters.  The murals are painted by some of the best-known Haitian artists of the Twentieth Century.  The ensuing years sees additional artwork brought into the Cathedral including the beautiful murals decorating the doors of the organ case with animals, birds, flowers and plants representing a hymn of creation honoring God the Creator. 

In 1961, the Episcopal Church celebrates one hundred years of service in Haiti.  For this occasion, major renovations take place at the Cathedral.  Through generous gifts from many friends throughout the United States and in Haiti, a new organ is installed.  The sanctuary of the Cathedral is redesigned to allow the priest to face the congregation while celebrating at the altar.   At the same time, administrative buildings are constructed behind the Cathedral, which provide choir rehearsal space, meeting rooms and offices for the Diocese of Haiti.

Then on January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake strikes Haiti, killing more than 300,000 people, seriously injuring more than 250,000, and leaving 1.3 million people homeless.  Untold numbers of private and public buildings are destroyed throughout the country including Holy Trinity Cathedral, as well as other buildings on the Cathedral close, including the primary, secondary, professional, and music schools, and Ste. Marguerite Convent.

Of the fourteen renowned murals that adorned the interior of the Cathedral, only three survive the destruction.  A collaborative effort, under the auspices of the Smithsonian, the Getty Conservation Institute, and others, salvaged and conserved the three murals—removing them from the walls, placing them in protective crates and taking them offsite to controlled storage as they await reinstallation in the new Cathedral.

Facing the enormity of, not only caring for its people, but also rebuilding most all of its churches, schools, hospitals and other structures throughout the country, the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti decides to concentrate its initial rebuilding efforts on Holy Trinity Cathedral—recalling once again the words of Bishop Lee, from a century and a half ago, that “a suitable building is essential for carrying out the mission of the Church.”

The Diocese of Haiti looks to a new Cathedral to be that prominent landmark proclaiming God’s abiding presence among the Haitian people.  It will represent the Church’s ongoing commitment to serve the peoples’ needs—a beacon of hope to all who suffer and a place of refuge in times of trouble.

The Episcopal Church, of which the Diocese of Haiti is its largest diocese, is committed to the rebuilding effort.  Over the last two years, a team has been working diligently with the Diocese of Haiti helping the Church get back up on its feet.  This past August, I began working with the Team to help develop and implement a strategy to rebuild the Cathedral. 

Our first major task was to compile and verify the necessary information in order to hire an architect and design the building.  Locating the deeds for the land, searching for surveys of the property boundaries, developing a program for how the new Cathedral should function, establishing a budget for design and construction—all these things and more were pulled together and agreed upon by all the folks involved, not only in Haiti, but in this country as well.  And for those of you who know how efficiently the Church operates, you can appreciate the time required to assemble this information.

In December, our Team issued a “Request for Proposal” to procure an architect.  On January 6th, we received those proposals and now, we are in the process of reviewing them and expect to make a decision in the near future.  This decision then will allow the design process to move forward and create a vision for the new Cathedral which can be shared with the entire Church.  Our hope is that the new design will be so exciting and so inspiring that it will raise great enthusiasm and encourage additional financial support for the rebuilding effort.

The amount of destruction in Haiti is so overwhelming, the need is so great and the recovery will take such a long period of time.  The Episcopal Church in Haiti needs our ongoing help.  You and I can continue to make a difference, a very real difference in the lives of these people, our sisters and brothers in Christ.  Our help is critical as the people of Haiti work to get back on their feet again.

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Most religious structures built over the last two centuries were designed to accommodate the traditional threefold aspects of congregational life: worship God, educate the members, and build community among the faithful.  Certainly in some instances, provisions were made to support social outreach, but these basic programs were the functional parameters by which faith communities understood their reason for being and gave shape to the buildings they created.

However in the present day, as many congregations face the harsh realities of declining membership, shrinking budgets and deteriorating buildings, it is time to look beyond the traditional parameters that defined congregational life and explore alternatives.  Religious leaders need to take greater initiative in creating innovative ways in which to use its real property for unconventional ministries before congregations are forced to close.  An example of such creative leadership exists in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (D.C.).

The Church of the Holy Communion is an Episcopal congregation that has served the historic Congress Heights neighborhood in Southeast Washington, DC since 1895.  For the first half of the twentieth century, Congress Heights was an integrated, working-class neighborhood, populated to a large extent by whites.  As demographics and economic opportunities shifted following World War II, the profile of the neighborhood gradually changed to become primarily African-American and low income.  Holy Communion, which had a congregation of as many as 800 members during the 1960s, experienced decline as members moved out of the neighborhood, grew older and died.  Over the same period, the effort made by the congregation to reach out to those who now live in the neighborhood and invite them to church did not produce sufficient new members to offset the decline.  As a result, Holy Communion reached a point where it averaged fifteen to twenty people at Sunday worship and only could afford a part-time clergy person.  The existing Gothic-Revival church and educational wing were constructed in 1952 and 1957 respectively, when the size of the congregation was at its height.  Not surprisingly, as the congregation shrank, the buildings suffered from deferred maintenance.  In other words, by 2005, Holy Communion teetered on the verge of closure.

At this same time, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington was taking decisive action to address another issue—the critical academic and social needs of young boys from low-income families in the District of Columbia.  The Diocese committed itself to establishing a boys’ school, honoring the memory of Bishop John T. Walker, the first African American Bishop of the Diocese, and locating the school in the economically-challenged Southeast quadrant of the city, where the need is great.  Yet with limited financial resources in hand, the prospect of purchasing land and building a new or buying an existing structure and renovating it seemed beyond the reach of the Diocese.

Recognizing the instance of two struggling ministries—one diminishing and the other fledgling, Diocesan leadership devised a creative solution: establish a partnership between Holy Communion and the Bishop Walker School, whereby the congregation provides the real property on which both ministries can function, while the School provides the resources to renovate the church and educational wing to accommodate both programs.  The congregation will enjoy the benefit of a newly-restored facility on the weekends, while the School will bring new purpose and vitality to the property during the weekdays.  Each ministry will enjoy the benefit from partnering with the other.

Both entities were agreeable to the partnership.  So working with Devrouax & Purnell Architects of Washington, Holy Communion, the Bishop Walker School and the Diocese together created a design to rehabilitate the existing buildings to accommodate the first phase of the School’s growth—from Junior Kindergarten to fourth grade, to upgrade the facilities to meet current building codes and provide accessibility for the disabled, as well as to preserve the congregation’s worship space all on a frugal budget of $2.3M.  In the fall of 2010, the congregation resumed worship in its historic church, as the School moved into its new spaces of the shared facility.

Is the partnership proving to be a success?  By and large, it is.  Still, challenges often occur in the early stages of any relationship.  The most notable glitch is that Holy Communion’s congregation is yet to enjoy an appreciable increase in members and giving.  The expectation was that the partnership, with its revitalization, inherently would attract new members to the congregation.  Yet, reality is proving that Holy Communion still must undertake the hard work of reaching out to people in the broader community and providing them a spiritual home.

Nevertheless, this creative partnership deserves attention, applause and encouragement.  Not only was a faith community saved from closing, but a vital new ministry established.  The visual presence and tangible efforts of a religious institution were enhanced and extended in a neighborhood needing positive influence and assistance.  Revitalizing the buildings and grounds brought money and jobs into the local economy, as the larger city benefits from preserving the historic streetscape.  In short, this partnership helped a great many people who needed it.

And what is more, this model of partnership can be replicated.  Examples where congregations partner with assisted living facilities for the elderly and disabled or with secular community centers to meet the needs of the surrounding neighborhood exist and are successful.  At the heart of each success are creative religious leaders who recognize the needs facing their faith communities, as well as their secular communities.  By matching needs with programs, real property improvement with philanthropy, and utilizing the skills and experience of design professionals, along with a dash of entrepreneurial spirit, these leaders are crucial in developing successful, adaptive-reuse solutions that address the challenges of declining congregations before their demise.

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In 1907, the first stone was laid in the construction of Washington National Cathedral and in 1990; the last stone was set in place.  As I began work at the Cathedral in 2005, I soon learned that over the course of its nearly one-hundred years of existence, a comprehensive survey of the building fabric had never been made.  Understandably, for the first eighty-three years, most of the attention was devoted to completing construction of the Cathedral, not preserving its fabric.  Yet with construction now complete, many in Cathedral governance felt it was time to turn its attention away from the building and devote its resources in other directions.  As a result, the prevailing attitude toward preservation was one of reaction, rather than pro-action.  In other words, wait for something to break and then fix it.

I immediately set to work reversing this attitude by raising the awareness of Governance to its responsibility of being good stewards of the historic landmark it had inherited, by teaching that a policy of deferred maintenance is more costly than preventative maintenance, and encouraging them to be more fiscally responsible by creating a prioritized list of preservation capital projects, with associated costs, for the next five, ten and fifteen years.  With this specific information in hand, a more responsible strategic budget could be established and the necessary funds set in place for any forthcoming major projects.  Finally after pressing the issue for two years, Governance was convinced to release the necessary funds allowing me to proceed with this important study.

Fortunately, the Cathedral maintained good records of its construction history, through drawings, specifications, correspondence, photographs and annual maintenance logs.  However, the information is not centralized nor easily accessible, which means it is used rarely.  Working with a historic architectural consultant, we sifted through all of the information and, after interviewing a number of people who participated in the construction and/or ongoing maintenance of the building, assembled an accurate and comprehensive history of construction in both written and graphic form.

The team then inspected the entire Cathedral, assessing the condition of all materials, assemblies and systems, noting any deterioration, failures and potential failures.  A number of specialists, including stone, stained-glass, metal and wood conservators, and roof and moisture protection specialists participated and provided recommendations.  Detailed technical analysis was made of selected materials and practices including mortar, stone repair, sealant use, waterproofing membranes, and lead roofing.  After a year, a comprehensive conditions report was assembled indicating every aspect of the building fabric: material descriptions, maintenance history, present condition, level of attention required and recommendations going forward.

Once the data was assembled, I then prioritized the items based on level of urgency and worked with the consultants to attach an estimated budget to each item.  I also evaluated the project list based on projected annual budgets for the next five years and current maintenance staff size and skill sets.  In the end, I assembled the information into distinct packets for specific audiences in both print and digital forms.  Governance received a summary of the conditions report, the prioritized project list and associated budget projections, all in a language that was comprehendible and useful for strategic planning and budgeting.

For those concerned with more technical aspects of the survey and its applications, they received the detailed conditions report, the prioritized project list and associated budget projections, which provided specific background and application information in an accessible form.

For the first time in Cathedral history, both Governance and Maintenance had the technical and budgetary information it needed to adopt a policy of pro-active preservation of the Cathedral.

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Trinity Episcopal Church ArchitectIn preparation for its 250th anniversary in 1996, Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton, Virginia, hired Frazier Associates to prepare a historic structures report on the church property.  The present Gothic-Revival church building, constructed in 1855, is the third church to be built on the site.  The existing church is listed on the National Register and has a notable collection of Tiffany stained-glass windows.  The site consists of an entire city block and includes a large parish hall (c.1872 & 1924), a rectory (c.1872) and numerous historic grave markers.

As the Principal Historical Architect, I worked with the firm’s other two principals to plan this project, determine the level of research needed to achieve the desired goals, define the scope of the final products, divide responsibilities among appropriate staff and specialized consultants, manage the work in progress and assure the final products were accomplished on time and within budget.

In our work, we conducted extensive research at national, state and local levels, using historical records, primary and secondary sources, as well as numerous personal interviews, to produce a detailed history of the parish and its historic structures, including a construction history for each building.  We produced measured digital drawings of the site and each building on it.  We investigated and assessed the condition of all materials, assemblies and systems in each building and provided recommendations for treatment, along with associated cost estimates.  We established preservation zones on the site and in the buildings that defined levels of historic value in particular areas and guided the degree of appropriate preservation action in each.  Specialized consultants, including structural, electrical and mechanical engineers, stone and stained-glass conservators, landscape architects and archivists, were made part of the team and each provided his or her professional assessment and recommendation.  Working with church leadership, we created proposed space plans for the future needs of each building.  I crafted an annual maintenance plan to guide the perpetual care of the buildings and grounds.  The number of tasks involved and individual participants required the creation of a master calendar to track each task with strategic benchmarks along a timeline.  The timeline of each task was coordinated with the others so all work could flow simultaneously and any necessary overlap was anticipated.  To make the plan successful required clear communication, frequent follow-up and clarifications, and flexibility when glitches occurred.  Throughout the project, we were in constant contact with church leadership, providing monthly reports of progress and revelations.

In the end, the deadlines were met within the required time limit.  All information and reports were documented in written and graphic form and assembled into a comprehensive volume.  We presented the completed information to the church leadership and congregation in an open forum and received enthusiastic feedback.  The parish used the report as anticipated, to guide its next large projects: the preservation and rehabilitation of the church, parish house and rectory; designing and constructing a sympathetic addition to the parish house; designing and installing a new pipe organ in the worship space; conserving the collection of stained-glass windows; creating an archive to house the parish’s historical records and establishing an annual maintenance plan.

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The Department of Commerce BuildingFrom 1992 to 1994, while serving as the Principal Historical Architect for Frazier Associates, we served as a historic architectural consultant for the General Services Administration (GSA) on selected historic federal building projects in the National Capital Region of Washington, DC.  The buildings included the International Trade Commission Building, former Navy Medical School Buildings, Department of Commerce Building, Department of Education Building, Federal Courthouse, Tax Court, Veteran’s Administration Building, and the Winder Building.  My responsibilities involved conducting in-depth historical research to determine the construction history of each building; submitting recommendations to GSA’s Historic Preservation Officer describing possible courses of action with historic building problems; providing analysis of original materials such as paint and mortar; preparing construction drawings and specifications for specialized restoration and conservation work; and reviewing the specialized construction in the field.

In this role, I was a member of large project teams of professionals consisting of architects, engineers, interior designers, fire protection specialists, and representatives from the respective federal departments and agencies housed in each building.  With each project, a new team was assembled, who often had not worked together previously.  For these projects to be successful, I approached them with a spirit of coordination and cooperation, and cultivated the same attitude within the project team.

One project, involving the Department of Commerce building, called for the installation of new fire barrier walls at strategic locations along the primary corridors of the one-time largest, horizontally-continuous building in the world.  The fire marshal for the project initially insisted the fire barrier walls had to be of solid construction with solid doors kept in a closed position.  While the project team agreed that improving fire safety for the building occupants was necessary, such a design solution would dramatically compromise the integrity of the building’s historic interiors and seriously impede a successful conclusion to the project.

However after extensive research, I located a manufacturer of fire-rated, glass door assemblies that provided the necessary degree of fire separation required for this project, and also offered a minimalistic design that was compatible with the historic interiors.  In addition, due to the proposed fire barrier’s innovative design, the fire marshal was agreeable to the notion that the new doors could be held in an open position by electro-magnetic locks, until such a time when an activated fire alarm would release the locks and the doors would close automatically.


A second project involved the exterior rehabilitation of the Veteran’s Administration Building.  Since the building’s construction in the early twentieth-century, the original glass-roof canopies over the primary entrances were altered dramatically from their original design and, in some instances, replaced entirely, due in large part to their failure to shed water properly.  A critical component of this project was the expectation that new canopies would be created to replicate the original design, but eliminate the earlier flaws.  In addition, each exterior entrance must be made accessible to the disabled, a design challenge made difficult by the extreme change in elevation from sidewalk level to the entrance floor level and the minimal amount of frontage area in which to accommodate a ramp.


In close collaboration with the project architect, the structural engineer, and the landscape architect, I developed new glass entrance canopies that are very similar in appearance to the original designs, yet allow water to drain from the exposed surfaces properly.  In addition, new ramps were designed and constructed that provide accessibility to the disabled and are sympathetic in appearance to the historic building.


These two examples illustrate the ongoing need to incorporate contemporary building requirements into the fabric of historic buildings—a task that too often results in a clash of sensibilities and an ugly design solution that compromises the value of the historic building.  However, with clear communication, creative design and a shared desire to produce an excellent product, I was able to assist the project teams in building consensus and achieving successful results.

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