Historic stained glass is being renewed at Central Presbyterian in Tarentum

It’s hard to miss the huge stained glass windows in the Central Presbyterian Church.

“When people come in, they are impressed,” said Gail Taglieri, secretary of the church on Allegheny Street in Tarentum.

‘It’s such a beauty and art. The reverence I feel reminds me that there is something greater than ourselves out there.”

The windows painted for the first time by Italian immigrants are about to get even more dazzling.

The church recently received a $10,000 grant to recreate some of the intricate displays first hung in 1913 when Woodrow Wilson was president.

The money will come from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and is the group’s fifth donation to the church’s long-term project, which is expected to reach $335,000.

The grant will be made available through the foundation’s Historic Religious Properties program.

Over the years, soot has stuck between the once brilliant glass and the clarity has diminished somewhat.

“On a sunny morning 10 years ago, the light would shine so brightly,” said David Rankin, a member of the church session. “The difference from now is unbelievable.”

According to David Farkas, the group’s director of real estate development, Central Presbyterian is one of 17 municipalities in Allegheny County distributing $155,000 in PHLF grants this year.

There were 23 municipalities that applied.

Money will pay for restoration projects that include cornice repair, masonry, and roofing. Other places to earn the scholarships include Beth Shalom Congregation in Squirrel Hill, The Union Project in East Liberty, and Natrona Heights Presbyterian in Harrison.

Since 1994, the PHLF has awarded $1.7 million in grants, leveraging a total of $23.3 million in funds.

In Tarentum, this is the fifth phase of a 20-year restoration project on the church. Work will focus on the 11 small classroom-sized windows along the front of the building, Rankin said.

That includes three windows on the first floor and six on the top floor, along with two crossbeams above the front entrance.

The cost is expected to be approximately $38,500.

“The bulk of funding for this phase of the work will come from church members and friends of the congregation,” Rankin said.

Central Presbyterian was founded in 1888 as Tarentum Cumberland Presbyterian Church. A pastor of the leading church in West Deer wanted to offer religious services north of the township, where many people began to relocate as industries flourished.

Designed by Butler architect Harry Wimer, Central Presbyterian is built in the classic unpaved bluestone style, according to Frank Stroker, PHLF director of historic resources and collections.

The huge hip-roofed church is built of stone and is considered one of the most important buildings in the region, Rankin said.

The sanctuary is shaped like a rotunda with 10 small rooms around its perimeter. It seats 1,000.

Rankin started fundraising for the restoration of windows in 1999, but it took 15 years to get started.

To date, each of the four large Tudor arch windows have been restored to their original glory, as have all windows at the rear of the building adjacent to the church’s parking lot and all windows along Third Avenue.

When completed, the church will have replaced all 45 windows, including three large exterior windows along Third Avenue and a large art window on Allegheny Street, two transoms and 37 classrooms. There are also two huge stained glass windows in the ceiling of the sanctuary.

Throughout its efforts, the church has received more than $45,000 from the Landmarks Foundation, in part, Farkas said, because it successfully meets the grant criteria that provide churches with thriving community outreach.

“Grants are not only awarded on the basis of need, but also because they are deeply involved in providing critical social services to their neighborhoods and making the religious building available for various community purposes,” he said.

Monthly programs at Tarentum Church include a wardrobe, free lunches, a $1 breakfast, and a concert series.

“The council has engaged with the community in a meaningful way that made them stand out,” Farkas said. “We are excited to help them complete their multi-year stained glass window restoration initiative, and the results are dramatic and can be appreciated by both church users and those who simply walk along the street.”

Central Presbyterian has also previously received $15,000 in grants from the Ira Wood Charitable Trust for some of the work.

Rankin expects at least three more phases before the work is completed. Ideally, it would be one more stage to complete the classroom windows along Fourth Avenue and one stage for each of the sanctuary’s skylights, he said.

The remaining costs are expected to exceed $108,000.

“While about 80% of the money came through Central’s congregation members and friends, there’s still room for the community to get involved,” Rankin said.

Windows can be restored in memory of a loved one, where most of the contributions come from.

Farkas said the grant program was created to meet this specific need.

“These large places of worship represent some of the most impressive architecture in our region, but are very expensive to maintain,” said Farkas. “We launched the program so that these buildings would remain vital parts of our neighborhoods for years to come.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter

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