Every day for the last four years, A. J. Boone, 81, probably was not at home when friends and others came to call at his 1200 North Capitol St. address.
Instead, he's lived his waking hours inside a vacant, dilapidated church two blocks away, waiting, along with the 1892 structure known as St. Phillips Baptist Church, for the bright day when its restoration is far enough along for the congregation to return.
Sunday, April 9, will be that day.
"I don't care about a million dollars," Boone said recently as he rocked his chair back on two legs and flicked a cigarette into an old lavatory sink in a torn up rear room on the ground floor. "I just want to see this church renovated."
Boone says he often sits in the doorway and that there have been many inquiries about the building's availability. "I tell them all a million dollars wouldn't buy this church," he said.
In June 1974, the building was declared a Historic Landmark of the District of Columbia, ending a decision-making process about whether to restore or raze it. That question had been, in part, responsible for a split in the congregation six months before. The Rev. Wilbert Cole, the group's pastor of 28 years, had resigned in December 1973 and about half of the group followed him to another church, which they named Cole Capitol Hill Baptist.
"It was a fight because the young ones wanted to build a new church, but the old ones couldn't see it that way," Boone recalls. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I told them they would tear that building down with me inside of it."
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Financial trustee Earl Jones felt the rate of growth of the St. Phillips building fund, started with $500 in 1969, the year they paid off - and burned in ceremony - the mortgage, was held back about 25 per cent by the loss of members during the split.
"When we got ourselves together after Rev. Cole resigned, we had the building inspected to see if it was sound," Jones recalled. "There was still some controversy over this (whether to renovate or rebuild) but it was in the minority. When we realized it was cheaper to renovate the building, we knew we could do it."
Architect for the renovation, Michael J. Cohalan, said a new building of comparable size would cost more than $600,000 at today's construction prices.
"This church has served as its own general contractor," he said. "This is unusual for churches, but it's becoming the thing to do by a lot of companies because construction costs are so high."
The cost of phase one of the renovation, which is scheduled for completion next week, was about $163,000. This included a restored second-floor sanctuary, and electrical, mechanical and plumbing changes.
"They have saved about $50,000 by taking the bids themselves and overseeing the work," said Cohalan. "It has been quite a challenge," said trustee Arthur Butler, who is retired from the National Bank of Washington. "I have spent many hours on this," he said.
Butler still works part-time as the private chauffeur of True Davis, the job he held when Davis was president and chairman of the board at NBW.
"Money. That's the reason it has taken us four long years," said trustee Jones, who is a tunnel inspector for the D.C. government. "Some of our group have given donations of $1,000 or more." Many of their tithes and offerings. Many of the congregation of 160 people tithe, or give 10 percent of their earnings.
The group believed that the landmark designation would give them a chunk of foundation money to get their project going. The D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency owns the vacant parcels to the right and left of the building. It was hoped by the congregation that the community would appreciate having a landmark church in the block instead of a large office building or government project.
"We wrote to all the banks we could think of which operated foundations, some big corporations, a dozen letters in all," recalls Jones. "A few of them answered with a 'no' and the rest we never heard from. So then we knew it was all on us."
Phase two, which includes finishing the downstairs, redoing the parsonage, making classrooms of the space off the second-floor sanctuary, and more basement changes, will cost $125,000. But the church, according to Jones, now has only enough to pay off phase one. "We're hoping we can borrow, since we didn't borrow anything for phase one," he said.
"We know we'll be putting money up for leaks and other things for years in this old building. But, it's worth it," said Floyd Grayson, a landscape contractor, who spent much of Easter Sunday helping others pump and scoop water from the rain-filled basement.
For two months this past winter, Boone was kept company by a white leghorn rooster who followed him around the church. "One day he just walked in, and when he was ready to go, he just left," said Boone, who still has a bag of chicken scratch.
"My wife Mame and I were hoping he was the Holy Ghost," quipped architect Cohalan.