Berea Temple's renewal preserves its rich history

December 17, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

A person can see much of Baltimore from atop one of the Berea Temple's 105-foot minarets. He also can get a close-up of the cracking, slipping Roman terra cotta tiles on the other minaret and the great dome behind them.

The tiles were intended to last 100 years, and the 100 years are up. The tiles must be replaced on the building at Madison Avenue and Robert Street built in 1891 by the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

The Seventh-day Adventist church that bought the building from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1951 is in the midst of a $2.6 million project to restore and renovate it. The problem with the tiles on the minarets and domes has caused a cost overrun.

"This modest congregation is trying to restore a national historic site with very modest funds," said Charles W. Breese, 57, a life-long member of Berea who is in charge of fund-raising for the renovation project.

Over the past year and a half, Berea members have given about $300,000, Breese said, which is about half what he expects to raise from them. "We had to really dig deep," he said. "We do not have many rich people." By January, Breese will have a proposal ready to present to major private donors, foundations and corporations. He is looking for about $2 million.

The work of refurbishing the exterior and the interior is planned in five phases, to be completed in 1993.

The church already has finished most of the first phase, consisting largely of adding new bathrooms and remodeling old ones. The project is now in phase two, which includes roof repairs and pointing and cleaning the stone exterior. This phase is proving to be the most expensive. The granite building has been swaddled in scaffolding since October.

The original plan for the roof was to repair dome and tower tiles as well as the shingles and flashing along the rest of the roof. That would have cost $150,000, according to Breese. But the architect advising the church on the project says the tiles and roof paper underneath are deteriorating and a simple repair wouldn't last long. To remedy the larger problem, replacing the tiles alone will cost $250,000, Breese said.

Moisture leaking through the old tiles can cause water damage and "a multitude of problems inside," said the architect, Roger Katzenberg.

After urging the church last month to replace the tiles, Katzenberg, of the Baltimore firm of Kann & Ammon, had more bad news. The cost of putting in new tiles would be $600,000.

Rather than spend that much, the church is trying to modify the different-looking Spanish tile, which is cheaper and more widely manufactured, Katzenberg said. The appearance would deviate from the original, he said, but "it would be as close as we can get," and about a third the cost of buying the Roman style.

Katzenberg, born six years after Berea Temple bought the building for $75,000, said his parents used to worship there before the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation moved to the 7400 block of Park Heights Ave.

The building is "one of the few examples of Byzantine architecture in the city of Baltimore," he said.

The congregation started talking about the massive renovation in 1987 and committed to a $2.6 million plan two years later. It did so after considering a move to the suburbs, which would have cost more than staying and renovating, Breese said.

For many members, especially older ones, "this is their home," said Milton Thomas, 50, a lifelong member, who is co-chairman of the church's centennial restoration.

He can still remember the first time his father, then the head deacon, took him inside the temple a few weeks before the church held its first worship service there. "I just thought it was big, huge, mammoth," Thomas said.

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