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Saint Casimir ChurchX

Designed by Palmer, Willis and Lamden, St. Casimir Church was constructed by the Polish community in 1926. It has a large, spacious, column-free interior with a seating capacity of 1200. Twin bell towers rise 110 feet over a footprint of 225 x 75 feet. The exterior is Indiana limestone with 14 high arched windows over projecting stone confessionals. The interior murals and decorative paintings were begun in 1939. The main altar is a 15 ton marble and bronze reproduction of the altar and statuary (by Donatello) in the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, Italy.

The fortunes of St. Casimir fluctuated over time with those of the Canton community. At one point it was in danger of being closed for good. Once gilded, the domes on its twin towers were weathered raw. Water seeped through cracked roof tiles and hundreds of feet of open joints in its Italianate limestone façade. Lexan coverings installed to protect the stained glass windows had clouded like cataracts and, unventilated, has contributed to their premature deterioration. Pigeon waste had accumulated to a level of several feet behind St. Anthony on the front façade. On the interior, a veritable showcase of the decorative arts, water seepage eroded the plaster details and murals.

The restoration of St. Casimir was too large, expensive and complex and undertaking to be completed at once. First the building envelope was stabilized and restored to prevent further damage. The roof over the assembly and masonry were restored in 2001-2002. The tower domes, masonry and statuary were completed in 2003. The portico doors, terrazzo, lamp and vaults were completed in 2005. The stained glass was removed and fully restored 2007-2008. Having completed the restoration of the building envelope, the interior restoration began in 2008.

Masonry: The multi-phased restoration began in 2001 with stabilization of the exterior. The masonry was cleaned and repointed on the body of the church. Several thousand feet of mortar joints were cut out and replaced. Because there were no expansion joints in the masonry, large expansion cracks which had appeared between the body of the church and the south tower were replaced with flexible joints. Pigeon waste was removed (nearly 3 feet thick behind St. Anthony) and protection was installed on all cornices, ledges and statuary. (2001-2002)

Towers: The restoration of the two towers was completed as a separate project culminating in the restoration of the huge bronze bells and re-gilding of the domes. The metal domes were badly deteriorated and rusting. They had been covered with a gold covered mylar product in the ‘70s (a cousin of the material used on the lunar module); unfortunately, the gold had delaminated almost immediately and the mylar presented a significant obstacle to the restoration. It was finally removed without damaging the metal substrate with a walnut shell blasting. The metal was repaired, primed, and coated with 23.5k gold leaf. (2003)

Roof: The clay tile roof was removed, restored, then badly damaged during a major winter weather event in 2003 (the same storm that destroyed the B&O Railroad Museum). The roof and deck were repaired and a new bronze tile snow rail system was installed. (2001, 2004)

Portico Restoration and Ramp: The entry doors were removed and refinished, the hardware was restored. The exterior terrazzo floors were replaced in kind. The entry lantern was removed and completely refinished, rewired, gilded and rehung with new custom curved blue glass panels. The groin vaults were replastered and painted. The handicapped ramp was created by removing a section of the monumental granite steps and resetting it on a slope. The remainder of the ramp is formed of terrazzo with granite curb salvaged from the old steps. The rails are solid bronze. (2005)

Stained glass: After considering the risks, the parish elected to remove the clouded Lexan and aluminum frames from the stained glass windows in 2003, before they could afford a full restoration of the glass. It was like removing cataracts, revealing the texture of the windows and returning the luminous art to the community. In 2007, the glass was fully removed to the shop and full releaded. Mismatched repairs were removed, the glass was cleaned, the frames and hardware were refinished. New laminated protective glass coverings were fit into the existing steel frames and vented to the interior through virtually imperceptible vents set into the border. (2007-2008)

Interior restoration: The plaster details, murals and decorative paintings had been damaged by years of leaks and vibration from trucks and buses. A huge crack ran diagonally across the center ceiling mural; the walls were alligatored and crazed with fine and deep crevices. Many well meaning attempts to repair and restore over the decades had resulted in more damage and distress. Several murals were bulging, detached from their substrates. All flat surfaces in the church were completely replastered. Missing plaster detail was carefully reproduced and restored to cornice, frieze and frame. The murals were cleaned and reattached; missing sections were reproduced in situ. The entire church was repainted, pews refinished, carpet replaced. To maintain the original character of the interior, illumination was improved through relatively modest changes to the lamping of the light fixtures. (2008-2009)

Project Details

Project Location:
Baltimore, MD
Completed:
2001-2009
Awards:
2009 AIA DESIGN AWARD
2010 Baltimore Heritage Award
Structural Engineer:
Michael J. Walkley Engineers
Photographer:
Paul Burk

Contractor Team

Decorative Arts:
John Tiedemann Inc.
Stained Glass Restoration:
Higgins & Associates
HC Ramp & Roof Restoration:
Houck Specialty Contractors
Roof Restoration:
Houck Specialty Contractors
Dome Restoration and Re-gilding:
The Gilder’s Studio, Inc.
Tower Restoration:
Shaw Steeple Jacks
Masonry Restoration:
Shaw Steeple Jacks
Door Restoration:
Gibbons of Baltimore
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