November 12, 1993

The most imposing building on the U.S. Naval Academy's sprawling campus in Annapolis is the 85-year-old chapel, easily recognizable from its copper-covered dome towering 192 feet in the air.

Shaped like a Roman cross, the building is one of the most popular tourist attractions in one of the most popular tourist cities in Maryland. Weddings and funerals are held in its sanctuaries, which boast large stained-glass windows designed in the studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The chapel also contains the crypt of John Paul Jones, the gallant and colorful Revolutionary War officer who gave the Navy its earliest traditions of heroism and victory. The crypt's display includes papers signed by John Hancock and George Washington and a dress sword presented to him by King Louis XVI of France.

Toward the end of John Paul Jones' life, he became -- with President Thomas Jefferson's approval -- an adviser to Catherine the Great of Russia, who gave him an admiral's rank. The American was never fully accepted by his Russian rivals, however, and left that country deeply embittered. He died in France in 1792 and was buried in Paris. His remains were later brought to the Naval Academy and in 1913 enshrined in a sculpted marble sarcophagus.

Many recent visitors have been pained by the deteriorating appearance of the chapel, which was enlarged in 1940 to increase seating capacity to 2,500. Brick and masonry are crumbling, leaks have developed in the patina-green copper dome and water stains appear on the exterior concrete. Fortunately, help is on the way: The New York architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle has been awarded a $196,000 contract to plan for renovations.

The design consultants have until early next year to prepare their report on the chapel's condition and on the cost estimate for repairs. What happens then is still cloudy because no money has been allocated by the government for the actual renovation work.

This assessment of the chapel's condition comes none too soon. Once the study is completed, the academy must move with urgency to secure funds because the longer deterioration continues, the higher the repair bill will be for this spiritual and aesthetic heart of the campus.

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