Update February 18th 2011: Steeple re-attached to chapel, reconstruction proceeding apace. See updated post HERE.
Today was the Cambridge Chronicle's turn to cover the LDS Church fire in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After inspecting Sunday’s four-alarm fire at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints chapel at 2 Longfellow Park in Cambridge, fire investigators have ruled it accidental. What actually sparked the fire is still under investigation, according to Cambridge Deputy Fire Chief John Gelinas. Gelinas said all that's left to preserve is the church's exterior walls and the steeple, which miraculously did not fall. Meanwhile, Cambridge Fire Chief Gerald Reardon met with city inspectors to estimate the damages done to the building, and determined that $1.9 million in damage was done. Church spokesman Grant Bennett said they plan to rebuild. Mitt Romney and his wife briefly stopped by, although they are members of a different ward nearby.
May 18th stories from the Boston Herald, which claims that the number of congregants was as many as 500, and the Boston Globe are also available. See my previous post for a detailed account of the fire and for links to several photo collections. From this May 17th Chronicle story, which contains its own pictures of the fire, we get a YouTube video of news coverage not previously posted, which is embedded below:
Another Chronicle article provides some informative background on the LDS Church, and is written accurately and thoughtfully. They disclose that there are five distinct congregations, or wards, in the city of Cambridge and two in Somerville. Three of them met at the Longfellow Park church, which burned down on Sunday morning. The other two congregations lease a meetinghouse in Kendall Square.
A third space, under construction on Binney Street in East Cambridge, will be completed in the next year and a half and cost $20 million, according to Church spokesman Grant Bennett. The new meetinghouse will house four congregations: the two currently leasing space in Kendall Square and two in Somerville. Bennett also disclosed that the Church in the local area is growing by an average of 75 to 100 new members annually.
The now-burned Longfellow Park church, the first LDS chapel in the greater Boston area, was dedicated in 1951. The average congregation in Cambridge is approximately 175 members. When the church grows, it forms new congregations, creating five in the area today holding approximately 875 members. The Cambridge LDS Stake is the umbrella over 14 congregations north of the Charles River. The stake’s administrative offices will be housed in the new Binney Street structure. The stake center is temporarily located in Belmont.
Unfortunately, the quality of the Chronicle's coverage is offset somewhat by their publication of a guest commentary column written by Ronald Lee Fleming, an architectural critic whose most recent book is entitled “The Art of Placemaking: Interpreting Community Through Public Art and Urban Design.”. Fleming is an ardent proponent of traditional colonial architectural styles, and he expressed his hope that the replacement chapel would better fit that motif. Except that he expressed himself in a manner highly insensitive and disrespectful of the tragedy overtaking the LDS congregation. Here's the pertinent excerpt:
It was quite a fire this Sunday morning. Big red engines blocked traffic on several streets. And when it was over, the brick and white clapboard Mormon church on historic Brattle Street just west of Harvard Square was gutted. Only the steeple, so slim it could have been a minaret, remaining, awash in the spray of a half dozen hoses. Well, too bad, of course, we all regret the loss of private property, but what an opportunity those flames present. Here was a church that was not so much neo colonial in design, as it was just an out of scale concoction with laughable proportions, its barn-like nave, and slender steeple seemed a parody of colonial revival.
Here was a faux style, alas repeated around the country by Mormon temples that look like simplistic illustrations in cardboard, that instantly communicate banality and proclaim a know nothing policy. Perhaps unconsciously they reflect the dubious mythology of Joseph Smith’s golden tablets...
And to add insult to injury, Fleming stated toward the end of his commentary that "as the flames rose, it was hard to repress a grin, for out of this disaster is visual release, and out of calamity is visual opportunity".
A grin? Excuse me, but Fleming thinks somebody else's tragedy is funny? No wonder a number of people left some very hostile comments in response to his screed. His attitude undoubtedly is also motivated by his ideological bias against LDS doctrine. The fact is, the LDS Church is quite aware of the existence of the Historic District Commission in Cambridge and has a successful track record in working with such groups to ensure church buildings meet community standards.
However, media coverage of this tragedy indicates that Fleming's attitude is clearly the exception. On the contrary, a Quaker congregation just across the street from the burned chapel offered to allow the Mormons to temporarily store the church records rescued from the fire until they found another location. In addition, the Friends Meeting house, First Church and the Episcopal Divinity School have all offered to host services in the interim. So the greater community has responded sympathetically and offered assistance.