Historic Christ Church Secures Two Significant Grants To Protect Treasured Landmark

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Historic Christ Church Secures Two Significant Grants To Protect Treasured Landmark

Christ Church Preservation Trust announces two major grants to support critical preservation work for Christ Church, one of America's premier historic churches and an extraordinary 280-year-old national landmark. A $500,000 challenge grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts and a $350,000 grant from the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures program have been awarded to Christ Church Preservation Trust, a non-religious nonprofit organization dedicated to the maintenance and preservation of the historic church buildings and burial grounds.

Christ Church is a privately managed site and an official component of Independence National Historical Park – located in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood, four blocks from Independence Mall. The church is still a strong, active parish today with approximately 500 members. After more than 280 years, Christ Church still provides social, economic, cultural and religious enrichment to the greater Philadelphia community.

The Honorable Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania's Senior U.S. Senator, The Pew Charitable Trusts' President and CEO Rebecca Rimel and Independence National Historical Park Superintendent Dennis Reidenbach are special guests at an event at Christ Church on Monday, February 26th at 9:30 a.m. where officials will announce the grants and discuss their significance to the city and the preservation community at large.

The two grants will support Christ Church's $2.5-million Preservation Master Plan, including the second phase of a critically needed fire protection system for all of the interior areas and conservation of the deteriorating building envelope/structure.

Since Pew made its challenge grant, Christ Church has raised $600,000. The two grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and Save America's Treasures added to the funds that have been raised prior to the challenge grant now bring the total amount raised to $2 million (of the $2.5-million goal). An additional $500,000 in new commitments is needed by March 31. Both grants are intended to encourage the public and private sectors – corporations and individual citizens — to invest in the critical preservation of a historic landmark that continues to serve its original function.

The $2.5-million Preservation Master Plan is part of a larger $10-million capital campaign that has also received donations and grants from other funders. Repairing, preserving and protecting this historic structure and burial ground requires ongoing funding.

Funds to Preserve a National Historic Landmark 

During the Revolutionary Era, Christ Church welcomed the Continental Congresses. Benjamin and Deborah Franklin and Betsy Ross were parishioners. Later, George Washington and John Adams attended services while serving as the nation's Chief Executives. Seven signers of the Declaration of Independence, including Benjamin Franklin, five signers of the Constitution, and ten former Philadelphia mayors are buried here.

“The Pew Charitable Trusts is proud to support the preservation of this important historic landmark,” said Rebecca Rimel, Pew president and CEO. “Christ Church played a critical role in the birth of our country, and we want to help ensure that this treasure remains part of Philadelphia for generations to come.” Rimel said that a challenge grant is aimed at encouraging the broader community to participate in an important endeavor for the fabric of the city, region and nation.

Individual donors and businesses have also joined efforts to help Christ Church meet its fundraising goals. Charles Beach Barlow, a former Philadelphian who continues to support Christ Church preservation from Connecticut, has made a significant donation to the campaign because of his strong commitment to this building and what it represents.

The internationally recognized architectural firm KieranTimberlake Associates, a Philadelphia architecture firm, pledged $100,000 toward the current preservation plan. James Timberlake, a founding partner of the firm and an active member of Christ Church, said their contribution is two-fold – representing a design firm's appreciation of what it takes to protect a historic building, and the firm's commitment to support a thriving city economy that depends increasingly on tourism. “Our contribution puts forth a challenge to other businesses in our city that could help to preserve this landmark so critical to tourism in the greater Independence Hall/Liberty Bell area,” said Timberlake.

Christ Church was founded in 1695, and the current building dates from 1727. It was the tallest building in the colonies and then the United States for 75 years thereafter. When the capital was in Philadelphia, it was the Sunday meeting place for the politicians and merchants who ran the young country. It is also the birthplace of the American Episcopal Church.

Senator Arlen Specter said supporting efforts to get this funding secured through the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures was very important to him since he is committed to preserving one of Philadelphia's most historic landmarks. “The building is critically important to our nation's story, and to the public's understanding of our early history.”

Independence National Historical Park Superintendent Dennis Reidenbach said the grant from Save America's Treasures (a national program of President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities run by the National Park Service and National Trust for Historic Preservation) to Christ Church Preservation Trust was the second largest grant given nationally in 2006.

“One of the strengths of Save America's Treasures is that in rescuing and preserving the critical fragments of our past, we are reminded how rich and varied our culture and history is,” said Reidenbach.

The exterior of the church – especially the church's steeple (thought to be the oldest wooden structure of its type in Philadelphia) – has been an icon of the city's eastern skyline, visible to countless Philadelphians and visitors. Christ Church's historic site also plays a meaningful role in Philadelphia's ongoing efforts to develop heritage tourism as an economic stimulus with its growing number of tourists visiting the site each year (300,000+ visits per year). It is among the 10 most frequently visited sites in the Philadelphia region.

While Christ Church is a destination for history enthusiasts and Philadelphia tourists, it is still an active Episcopal Church and community center. “For the 500 members that form the Church congregation, the proposed preservation work will guarantee they and future generations can continue to worship at this historic landmark,” said the Reverend Timothy Safford, Rector of Christ Church.

The front facade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC.

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