This undated photograph depicts the original tower of Victorious Life Christian Church. Part of the tower was demolished before the congregation bought the church in 1991.
The Troy congregation Victorious Life Christian Church, at Fifth Avenue and Fulton streets, has confronted a preservation dilemma that plagues a number of houses of worship: excessive deterioration of its sandstone foundation.
Sandstone is exactly as its name implies: a sedimentary rock of sand-size minerals, bonded under pressure by deposits above it. It’s more commonly known as brownstone, after its popular use as a building material in the mid- to late-19th century particularly in New York City.
Preservationists may disagree, but I’ve always said that it was a bad building choice then and is a bad building choice now. Laid or quarried wrong and brownstone will delaminate, becoming as fragile as pastry over time.
The stone foundation of Victorious Life was similarly eroded, as if the blocks of stone had melted, losing their “vermiculated” surface (literally, tooling meant to resemble the tracks of worms), as well as the blocks’ crisp rectangular shapes.
The excessive deterioration of the church’s sandstone foundation left the congregation with limited repair options. Rather than wholesale replacement with cast stone, the congregation chose having the stone rebuilt with a special repair compound. The surface is hand tooled. Costly stone in high-end restorations must be imported.
With TAP’s help, the congregation explored repair possibilities. A pure restoration would mean in-kind replacement of the existing stone. But the last American brownstone quarry, in Portland, CT., closed in 2012. Stone would have to have been imported from Europe, and finding a skilled craftsman to carve it would be difficult. All possible in theory, but, in reality, prohibitively expensive.
Replacing the stone with more durable pigmented cast stone seemed like overkill, requiring the removal of every sandstone block and installation of a non-historic material.
The brick masonry church was built in 1863 to the designs of noted Troy architect Marcus F. Cummings and contributes to the Central Troy Historic District. Previously a Baptist, then, a Lutheran church, Victorious Life has owned the building since 1991.
The church and its contractor, Ganem Contracting Corp., settled on chiseling the stone back to a sound surface, then using stainless steel rods to attach an approximately 3-inch deep coating of Custom System 45, a cementitious mix manufactured by Edison, Coatings, Inc.
Regular contributions to a repair fund, allowed the congregation to set aside $30,000 .
After a test area, resulting in an extremely close match to the original stone’s texture, color and tooling, the congregation authorized the $85,000 project. The stone repair is part of a larger $162,000 exterior rehabilitation that will include painting of exterior wood window trim and metal water tables, new half-round gutters and limited re-pointing of the brick masonry.
The newly formed stone face matches the original stone, painted tan. The new south foundation wall.
Victorious Life has done a number of things right in its approach to the repair. It regularly contributes to a repair fund, which allowed the congregation to put $30,000 toward the project. Now, it will use the stewardship contributions to pay off a $205,000 construction loan from the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region, a non-profit lender that issues loans to small businesses, as well as to other non-profit agencies or organizations that provide human services to support community renewal.
Which leads to the other factor the congregation does well: outreach. The church provides weekly community meals, mentors young girls, runs recovery programs and offers parental skills classes. With many urban houses of worship facing maintenance woes, deferred by shrinking and aging congregations, the congregations that open their doors will fare the best when it comes time in capital campaigns to ask the larger community to support repairs that will keep these buildings standing on the corner.