The Monuments That Were Never Built

In a new exhibit at the National Building Museum, imagine Washington D.C. as it could have been

(Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY)

Original design of National Cathedral by Ernest Flagg, 1896

“Many people assume it was a foregone conclusion that it was Gothic,” says Moeller. But the original design for the National Cathedral was in a Renaissance style. Architect Ernest Flagg, of New York, supplied the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation with drawings. The cathedral had a 208-foot-tall rotunda, a dome with cutouts of simple Greek crosses and, notes Moeller, a particularly interesting entryway. “It is a real niche, pulling people in,” he says. “There was a certain sculptural sense to that. I can imagine that being a very memorable experience.”

Raising funds for the church proved to be a challenge, however. Years passed, and opinions changed. Henry Yates Satterlee, the first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, hired an English architect of Anglican churches named George Frederick Bodley to build the Gothic-style cathedral with three towers and flying buttresses that stands today. The National Cathedral was completed in 1990, after 83 years of construction.


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