Six Months After Earthquake, National Cathedral Stone Masons 'Still Processing' the $20 Million in Repairs Remaining

After a 5.8 magnitude earthquake surprised Washington residents and shook the National Cathedral last August, causing over $20 million in damages, a small team of stone masons continues working to restore the cathedral. Repairs will likely take a decade.

How many people are capable of artfully carving stone in a Gothic style that dates back hundreds of years?

Only a dozen on the entire East Coast, according to head mason Joe Alonso, who is charged with overseeing the .

The area residents last August broke several of the cathedral's main pinnacles and caused .

"When you look at all that's left to repair, it can be overwhelming," said Sean Callahan, one of two stone masons who has been working on the cathedral since the quake. "In some ways I'd say we're still processing just how much we have to do. But we just break it down one stone at a time, and I'm confident that we can get this project done. But it will take years."

This time frame isn't surprising considering that the National Cathedral took 83 years to build and most of its stone work was done by hand. From reconstructing the massive, uppermost pinnacles, to carving tiny details such as the curve of a leaf, or face of a gargoyle, Callahan and Andy Uhl, the other stone mason restoring the cathedral, literally have tons of stone to hand carve and reshape before the building returns to its pre earthquake condition.

Despite the challenges ahead, Uhl, Callahan, and head stone mason Alonso are some of the most qualified crafstmen to handle the project. The three masons have worked on the cathedral before, completing apprenticeships under the famous master stone carver Vincent Palumbo in the 1980s.

"We were all fortunate that we came along when the old guys were still there to learn from," said Alonso, reflecting on his earlier work at the cathedral. "We came along when the WWII generation of masons hadn't retired yet. By the end of the 1980s, most of them had retired."

Reflecting on the work that remains to be done, Alonso said he expects the project will take close to a decade to complete and will likely require assistance from more stone masons. 

Thus far, the National Cathedral has raised $2 million for restoration efforts from donors across the country, and cathedral staff plans to continue fundraising efforts for as long as needed to support the project. Perhaps its a good thing they have years to meet their expected $18 million fundraising goal.


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