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 styleBrutalist
Town or cityWashington, D.C.
CountryUnited States
ClientThird Church of Christ, Scientist
Design and construction
ArchitectAraldo Cossutta
Architecture firmI. M. Pei & Partners

Third Church of Christ, Scientist, established in 1918, is a Christian Science church in downtown Washington, D.C. From 1971 to 2014, the church was located in a controversial building at 16th and I Street NW. Considered a significant work of "Brutalist" church architecture by some critics, the building was considered unsatisfactory by members of the Church's congregation, which shrank over the years. In 2007, the church applied for a demolition permit for the building to permit sale and redevelopment of the site, with plans to relocate to a more suitable structure. A 1991 application for landmark status for the building, filed to forestall a demolition threat then, was subsequently approved. After a lawsuit and hearings, the District of Columbia issued a demolition permit in May 2009, and the building was demolished in 2014. In 2015, Third Church merged with First Church of Christ, Scientist. The congregation continues as First Church and conducts its activities in a portion of the new building.

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 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.[5]

16th Street building[edit]

Main entrance to the former 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.[6][7] The concrete building is octagonal in shape.[8] An adjacent office building was also constructed to house The Christian Science Monitor's Washington Bureau, with a small plaza knitting the two buildings together.[6]

Although many architecture critics admire the building, many members of the Church's congregation disliked it.[9][8] The Church began to consider selling the property about 1990, which would likely have led to its demolition. In an effort to save the building, two groups independent of the Church applied in 1991 to the District of Columbia to have the building listed as a historic landmark.[10] The congregation opposed the designation, which was not acted on at the time.[3]

The building had been costly to maintain, and was not suited to be re-purposed for another use.[11] Structural defects include cracking in many spots. Maintenance costs included $5,000 - 8,000 for changing lightbulbs in the sanctuary, which involved erecting scaffolding.[12] In 2007, the land itself was sold in 2007 to ICG Properties, which owns an adjacent property on K Street,[13] and the developer leased the land back to the church.[14]

This renewed threat to the building led to reconsideration of the 1991 application for historic landmark status. In December 2007 the application was approved by a unanimous vote.[9][15] 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] Opponents of the historic landmark designation argued that it violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and subsequent laws by imposing a substantial burden on the church.[15] 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 congregation's demise if demolition were not approved. The approval was contingent upon the congregation's relocating to another facility close to that of Third Church.[11]

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 owners applied for the final demolition permit.[18] Demolition of the church building began on February 24, 2014.[19] The 1971 Third Church building was replaced by an office building.[20] On July 24, 2015, Third Church merged with First Church of Christ, Scientist. First Church moved from its former location in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. First Church now meets in a portion of the building that replaced Third Church at 910 16th St. NW behind a dramatic mirrored glass entrance.[21]

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.[22] [23]


  1. ^ "Church Challenges Landmarking of 1971 Structure and Historic Preservation Review Board's Conclusion that It Operates above Civil Rights Laws" (PDF) (Press release). Storzer & Green. 2008-08-07. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-05-30. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  2. ^ "Who Are We?". Third Church of Christ, Scientist. Archived from the original on 2009-05-22. 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. Archived from the original (pdf) on 2010-08-30.
  4. ^ "Third Church of Christ, Scientist - Hearing" (PDF). District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development. 2008-11-25. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-05-07. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  5. ^ "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 (PDF) on 2008-11-09.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Abruzzese, Sarah (2008-08-07). "Church Sues Over Landmark Status". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-14.
  8. ^ a b Freund, Charles Paul (December 18, 2007). "A Brutalist Bargain". The American Spectator. Archived from the original on September 4, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
  9. ^ a b "Cossutta Church Saved". Architect Magazine. January 2, 2008.
  10. ^ Committee of 100 on the Federal City (January 28, 1991). "Application for Historic Landmark: Third Church of Christ. Scientist and Christian Science Monitor Building" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-23.
  11. ^ a b Fisher, Marc (2009-05-13). "D.C. Lets Church Tear Down Brutalist Atrocity". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-05-14.
  12. ^ Hagerty, Barbara Bradley (2008-08-21). "Future Of Brutalist-Designed Church Not Concrete". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  13. ^ Adler, Neil (2007-04-17). "ICG acquires D.C. property". Washington Business Journal. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b Schwartzman, Paul (2007-12-06). "Church Gets Landmark Status Over Congregation's Objections". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-05-14.
  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. Archived from the original on 7 March 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  21. ^ "First Church of Christ, Scientist Washington, DC – Sharing Christian Science in the Nation's Capital". Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  22. ^ Then and now: Northwest corner of I and 16th Streets, N.W.
  23. ^ 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