In January 2021, Earthwise did one of the largest salvage jobs to date at University Temple, a United Methodist church in Seattle. When they contacted us, we knew from experience this was going to be a delicate and time-extensive project. We worked with Walsh Construction and University Temple leadership over the previous year to execute the salvage seamlessly.
Why did it take a year to set up? Aaron Blanchard, Director of Operations discusses why some salvages take longer than others.
“The size, age, and importance of the building requires more time to do it the right way. After creating a game plan, we spent 2 full months in the church which is much longer than our usual salvages but about the same amount of time University Christian Church took.”
In 2018, Earthwise salvaged University Temples’ sister church, University Christian Church in the University District of Seattle.
Aaron continues, “We spent about 3 weeks taking the 18’ long pews and shortening them to make them more usable sizes (5’-6’). The windows took another two weeks and the doors, corbels, molding and loose items took the rest of the time. We came back for a few days once the boiler room had been decommissioned to grab some cool pieces from there including pressure gauges, a massive fire door, and other steam-punk-esque relics.”
The Unique History of University Temple’s Stained Glass
Anthony Rez was a glass artist who immigrated from Hungary in 1922. He both designed and installed the sanctuary glass that we removed. He and ~20 glaziers built the stained glass pieces over several months with a method similar to making fine ceramics. Each piece of colored glass was painted and then fired in a kiln before being put together with zinc and lead in the beautiful arrangements that captured the hearts of the parishioners for almost a century. He honed his skills at University Temple before moving on to create the stained glass at the University Christian Church.
Stained Glass Removal Process
The most challenging part of the salvage was the stained glass removal. Instead of having wood frames like many windows do, the stained glass was cast in stone. Wood frames warp and rot and eventually the glass succumbs to gravity and buckles. The stone remains rigid in all temperatures and moisture levels. This technique is common for this era (early 1900s) and kept the glass in outstanding condition but is a painstaking process to get out.
To remove the stained glass safely, we break away the stone and mortar with grinders and rotohammers, operating heavy-duty power tools centimeters away from delicate glass. The glass was designed with a narrow border of glass around the outside (fillets) of the main glass to accommodate the inevitable breaks that occur when removing it.
To make a difficult task even trickier, someone added silicon calking on the outside of the glass! Just when it seemed like we had a beautiful piece removed intact, there was calking waiting to hold the leading in place, which increases the potential for more breaks.
The Earthwise crew worked diligently for weeks to remove virtually every piece of stained glass in the building with an admirable rate of success.
The Largest, Most Amazing Find
Without question, one of the most unique pieces from this salvage was the altar. This 20’ long, 12’ tall set of mahogany columns and panels encased a massive marble altar which was all removed in components and reassembled at our Seattle shop. See all the details HERE.
So Many Pews, So Little Time
Another remarkable thing about this church was just how much mahogany we found. The 60+ pews and the baseboard and trim were mahogany. This was imported from Honduras which is impressive given the somewhat primitive equipment they had at their disposal during this era. For example, the gas powered chain saw wouldn’t be in production until the 1960s.
The extra lengths of pew seats presented quite the challenge to the crew. The pew seats were made of laminated strips of mahogany and after cutting the pews down in size, we had a ton of seat shaped boards left over. Given the groove carved into them to make them comfortable for the parishioners to sit on, they were a hard shape to reuse as a table top or a shelf. We took all of the extra pieces and had them planed down by OB Williams into beautiful, mahogany “butcher block.” After cutting away the seat shape we were left with ¾” thick material that our customers bought up as fast as we could get them in our inventory. We’ve been delighted to see the beautiful projects that our customers have created out of this unique product.
Pews are very popular products that we salvage from churches. The problem we have run into is that most pews are much longer than anyone can use. With some creative carpentry, we’ve developed a system to take very long pews and shorten them into “pewlets” that can adorn your covered porch or breakfast nook. Reusing an old pew is a great way to respect the past and sustain the future while giving your space a character piece with a story.
What’s Next for University Temple?
We get many questions about what happens to the houses, buildings and churches we salvage. In this case, the demolition project is relatively unique in our experience because the church is keeping the property and redeveloping it rather than selling it to a developer. They will demolish the old church and build new student housing and a much smaller church in its place. The Church kept one large piece of glass which was removed by Sacred View Studio owner, Blake LaRue, a stained glass removal and restoration expert. It will be restored and featured in the new construction.
We have some University Temple and University Christian pieces left in stock. Visit our inventory, or one of our three locations and ask one of our staff what we have. Though, something tells us it’ll be hard to miss!
Pieces from University Temple Church
Pieces from University Christian Church