Third Church of Christ, Scientist (Washington, D.C.)

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Third Church of Christ, Scientist
Third Church of Christ, Scientist - Washington, D.C..JPG
Third Church of Christ, Scientist
General information
Architectural style Brutalist
Town or city Washington, D.C.
Country United States
Completed 1971
Demolished 2014
Client Third Church of Christ, Scientist
Design and construction
Architect Araldo Cossutta
Architecture firm I. M. Pei & Partners

Third Church of Christ, Scientist, established in 1918, is a Christian Science church in downtown Washington, D.C. The church is located in a brutalist-style building at 16th and I Street NW that was built in 1970. Since opening, the building has not been well suited for the church, which has experienced declining attendance at its services. In 2007, the church applied for a demolition permit for the building, hoping to rebuild something more suitable or relocate elsewhere, but the building had been declared a historic landmark. After a lawsuit and hearings, the District of Columbia ruled in May 2009 that the demolition could go forward.

Early history[edit]

The Christian Science denomination was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in the 1860s, and the Church of Christ, Scientist was formally established in the 1870s.[1] Third Church of Christ, Scientist is a branch church of the Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston.[2]

Third Church was originally located in a building on Lafayette Park near the White House,[3] shared with the National Woman's Party. In summer 1918, soon after it was established, the church relocated to the Masonic Temple on New York Avenue at 13th Street. In 1927, the church moved to a former Unitarian church building at 13th and L St that it purchased, but then in the 1950s, the church considered options for relocating closer to Lafayette Park.[4] The building is being demolished by Celtic Demolition Inc.[5]

The site at 16th and I Street NW, owned by the Mother Church, housed the Washington offices of the Church's Committee on Publication. In the 1960s, the Church decided to demolish that building and construct a new office building to house the Committee and The Christian Science Monitor, with space available on the site to accommodate a building for Third Church of Christ, Scientist.[6]

16th Street building[edit]

Main entrance to the church.

In 1970, a new building opened for the church at 16th Street and I Street NW, designed in a brutalist architectural style by Araldo Cossutta, a partner in the firm I. M. Pei & Partners. Cossutta had previously designed the Christian Science Plaza in Boston.[7][8] The concrete building is octagonal in shape.[9]

An adjacent office building was also constructed as part of the original plan to house The Christian Science Monitor's Washington Bureau.[7] Church members have long disliked the building, and attendance had dropped to an average of 50 in 2007, though the sanctuary can accommodate 400.[9] The land itself was sold in 2007 to ICG Properties, which owns an adjacent property on K Street,[10] and the developer has leased the land back to the church.[11]

In 1991, historic preservationists had applied to have the building listed as a historic landmark.[12] The congregation opposed the designation.[3] The church was ultimately designated as a historic structure in December 2007,[13] but this sparked lawsuits by the church against the city over the historic designation.[14] Opponents of the designation argued that it violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and subsequent laws by imposing a substantial burden on the church.[13]

The building has been very costly to maintain, and is not suited to be re-purposed for another use.[14] Structural defects include cracking in many spots, and maintenance costs include $5,000 - 8,000 for changing lightbulbs in the sanctuary which involves erecting scaffolding.[15] The church plans to put the space up for redevelopment, and relocate to another site.[14]

After the city turned down a demolition permit request from the church in July 2008, the church filed a lawsuit alleging violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment along with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).[16][17] On May 12, 2009, the District of Columbia approved a demolition permit for the building, citing hardships on the building's owner and the possibility of the church's demise if demolition were not approved.[14]

Current news[edit]

As of October 7, 2013, with all legal issues resolved and with local approval in hand for a planned unit development, with commercial and religious uses, the current owners have applied for a demolition permit.[18] Demolition of the church building began on February 24, 2014.[19] The building is being demolished by Celtic Demolition Inc.[5] It will be replaced by an office building.[20]

Previous history of site[edit]

This site was the location of the home of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Horace Gray. It was later used as a Christian Science Reading Room.[21] [22]


  1. ^ "Church Challenges Landmarking of 1971 Structure and Historic Preservation Review Board’s Conclusion that It Operates above Civil Rights Laws" (Press release). Storzer & Green. 2008-08-07. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  2. ^ "Who Are We?". Third Church of Christ, Scientist. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 
  3. ^ a b "Historic Landmark Nomination Case Number 91-05" (pdf). District of Columbia Office of Planning. 2007-11-01. p. 48. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  4. ^ "Third Church of Christ, Scientist - Hearing". District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development. 2008-11-25. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  5. ^ a b [1]
  6. ^ "Staff Report for Third Church of Christ, Scientist and the Christian Science Monitor Building" (PDF). Historic Preservation Review Board. November 1, 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-11-09. 
  7. ^ a b Cook, David T. (2006-04-14). "Christian Science Church - stressing 'mission focus' - cuts real-estate costs". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  8. ^ Abruzzese, Sarah (2008-08-07). "Church Sues Over Landmark Status". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  9. ^ a b Freund, Charles Paul (December 18, 2007). "A Brutalist Bargain". The American Spectator. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
  10. ^ Adler, Neil (2007-04-17). "ICG acquires D.C. property". Washington Business Journal. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  11. ^ Stockton, Bryan (May 2008). "Preserving Sacred Places: Free Exercise and Historic Preservation in Context of Third Church of Christ, Scientist, Washington, DC". Georgetown University Law Review. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 
  12. ^ Committee of 100 on the Federal City (January 28, 1991). "Application for Historic Landmark: Third Church of Christ. Scientist and Christian Science Monitor Building". Archived from the original on 2014-08-23. 
  13. ^ a b Schwartzman, Paul (2007-12-06). "Church Gets Landmark Status Over Congregation's Objections". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  14. ^ a b c d Fisher, Marc (2009-05-13). "D.C. Lets Church Tear Down Brutalist Atrocity". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  15. ^ Hagerty, Barbara Bradley (2008-08-21). "Future Of Brutalist-Designed Church Not Concrete". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  16. ^ "Brutalism v. Church: A Congregation Sues D.C. Over Historic Landmarking". Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. 2008-10-27. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  17. ^ Lampman, Jane (2009-01-12). "'Historic' building versus religious rights". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  18. ^ Neibauer, Michael (October 7, 2013). "The ugliest church in D.C. will be knocked down". Washington Business Journal. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  19. ^ Weiner, Aaron (Feb 25, 2014). ""The Ugliest Church in D.C." Is Now the Ugliest Half-Church in D.C.". City Paper. Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  20. ^ Maurer, Pablo (March 4, 2014). "Photos: The End Is Nigh For D.C.'s Brutalist Church". Washington City Paper. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  21. ^ Then and now: Northwest corner of I and 16th Streets, N.W.
  22. ^ Historic American Buildings Survey

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°54′07″N 77°02′13″W / 38.902°N 77.037°W / 38.902; -77.037