National Cathedral competes against 23 historic sites for funding

From the pews at the National Cathedral, damage to the ceiling is hard to see, but on a private tour of the balcony, head stone mason Joseph Alonso points out the fallen debris.

“What’s up here now is probably many hairline cracks and loose pieces of mortar,” Alonso says.

Nearly two years after an earthquake shook the cathedral, bits of stone continue to break off, caught by black netting that covers the length of the sanctuary.

“It makes me sad every time I see this netting,” he says. “It just takes away from the entire experience of the cathedral.”

Now the cathedral is competing against 23 other historic sites for a $100,000 grant to repair the damage. It’s called the Partners in Preservation contest, organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and American Express.

“Our goal is to raise public awareness and public support for historic sites in the D.C. metro area,” says Rob Nieweg, the director of the Washington Field Division for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Nieweg says fans of select sites can use social media to raise points for their favorite spot. A tweet with the hashtag “preserveDMV” earns 10 points while a vote online earns 50. Each site will get a piece of the total prize of $1 million.

“These places are unique in the world and if we lose them, if we don’t take care of them, we’ll never find them again,” Nieweg says.

The National Cathedral has already received millions in public and private funds, but Alonso says it will take more than $20 million to finish fixing the stone. He says every little bit helps.

“I’d really like to see us win,” he says.

The contest runs through May 10, but experts say it will take as many as ten years to fully repair the damage.