In an urban vortex of gas stations, car dealerships and grocery stores, the slender brick facade of Alexandria's Oakland Baptist Church stands proud and distinct.
So when most of the church came down last year, many local residents paused to fret that the last vestige of village life at the intersection of Braddock Road, King Street and Quaker Lane was on its way out.
The worries are no more, because Oakland--a congregation founded in 1891--opened its new doors Aug. 28 and celebrated the renovation with numerous services last week, glorying in an intense purple sanctuary, an elevator to bring its disabled members to worship, a paved parking lot and a commercial kitchen in the basement for home-cooked meals.
The old brick church was a beauty, members say, with stained-glass windows and a tiny, homey sanctuary that forced familiarity. But the congregation's dream of expanding the building to make room for Sunday school and more members was a long-standing one, and the moment had arrived.
The adjacent power substation, which sat between the church and T.C. Williams High School, was shut down, and Virginia Power sold the land to Oakland, as promised.
The church then emptied its kitty of $800,000, borrowed $1 million from First Virginia Bank and put up a new, modern church, retaining three of the original walls, including the front. The congregation, said Pastor Tyrone Queen, is "ecstatic.
"It is real exciting times," he said, especially for some of the senior and elderly members of the church. "They're very proud. This is something the church has been wanting to do for many years."
One of the happy senior members of the church is Mary Colbert. Colbert, 82, started attending Oakland when she was 7, was baptized there at 12 and took all four of her children there for their baptisms. In recent years, though, arthritis kept her away, because walking into Oakland meant climbing the steep front steps. No more.
"Now they have an elevator so I'll be able to go more often," she said. "I love it. I love the whole church."
It's not just the congregation that is happy with the change. Community support, even from strangers, has poured in. A nearby resident dropped off a check, saying he knew they could use a little extra money. When deaconess Fran Colbert Terrell went to City Hall to get a permit for the church's parade, a man in the transportation department expressed relief that the church was not being demolished, as he had feared. And a local woman sent a pot of yellow chrysanthemums to the church, with a note:
"Dear Friends," it read. "I have watched the transformation of your church as I commute to NOVA and back home, and I'm delighted to see that it's finished (so beautifully, too) and you have returned home to it. May you have many years of worship and service in it."
Worries that the church was leaving the urban corner were not entirely without cause: Lindsay Lexus, the church's next-door neighbor, proposed a land swap with Oakland. It would expand the car dealership across the current church lot, and the church could rebuild on some land the business owns off Braddock Road. But the deal wasn't financially comfortable for the church.
Oakland Baptist once was a narrow sanctuary with a crowded fellowship hall, two small bathrooms and a couple of offices. Today it boasts plenty of elbow room. The sanctuary has more than doubled in size, with enough room for the 250 members. There are four classrooms, a nursery, five bathrooms, a women's lounge, comfortable offices, a conference room and a spacious fellowship hall named after Pastor Emeritus A.R. Preston, who shepherded the congregation toward the goal of expanding.
Preston said he was moved beyond words when he heard that the fellowship hall would bear his name.
"Water came in my eyes, and I'm not a crybaby," he said. "It almost melted my heart."
Despite the thrill of the new--the audiovisual room where tapes of the service are recorded and duplicated for use by shut-ins; the bright purple pews and carpeting; the four white speakers that fan the church from the ceiling--there is a touch of sadness at the loss of the old.
Where once there were stained-glass windows, now there are simply clear ones. "Wonderful" old pews filled the old church, Terrell said. "We just had nowhere to put them [during renovation], so we donated them to the Northern Virginia Baptist Association in Gainesville."
Rose Burgess, one of many church members who come from far outside Alexandria to attend Oakland, said she enjoys the new church but misses the old.
"It had a sense of history to it," said the Clinton resident. But, she said, the new church will take on that feel. "I honestly and truly believe that the feel will come back, the sense of history will come back."
CAPTION: Tyler Hawkins, 2, plays with his Mickey Mouse firetruck during a celebratory service Friday night at Oakland Baptist Church in Alexandria. Tyler's dad, Conrad, plays the organ for the church.