The non-denominational Eternal Father of the Sea chapel has stood in the Navy Yard in North Charleston since 1942. In the chapel’s early years during World War II, it was a place where Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish sailors and their families could enjoy services that reflected their faith. Sailors would also often get hitched in the chapel before they were sent off to war.
Even now, if you watch The Notebook, the Eternal Father of the Sea can be found in the background of the Nicholas Sparks drama. So when Palmetto Railways made plans to build a railway where the chapel is located, the city of North Charleston knew it had to salvage the historic building.
Richard Marks Restoration Inc. has been working on renovating and relocating the chapel. In order to save the chapel, the building needed to be relocated approximately a mile away from where it was originally built to a location farther north, near former officers’ housing at Riverfront Park. Before the crew could move anything, they first had to assess the damage on the aging infrastructure.
“The church had no maintenance on it when the Navy Base closed in the early ’90s,” Marks says. “We couldn’t save a lot of the walls and floor, but we could take the roof off and save it, as well as the doors. We were able to dismantle probably 50 percent of the structure and save it.” The crew removed and stored all of the doors, windows, light fixtures, roof sheathing and purlins, roof trusses, wood flooring, the cornerstone, and any other items that were salvageable.
The new chapel is designed to be almost identical to the old. But there are a few differences, such as the size of the building, which has been expanded in order to meet code regulations. “It’s about four inches wider than the original building with the insulation,” says Hoyt Roberts, project manager at Richard Marks Restoration. “We put six panels on the roof; those are structurally insulated panels. Essentially it is a sheet of ply wood 22 feet long with 4 inches of closed-cell insulation in it and a sheet of plywood on the bottom of it.” The old chapel was not insulated.
Another addition is that the new chapel will have an expanded restroom and dressing room facilities. In the back of the building, there are two separate dressing room facilities that are convenient for weddings. “I understand that they are getting calls to rent this now,” Roberts says.
While the new chapel could be hearing wedding bells soon enough, the work isn’t quite done yet. Roberts has enjoyed working on the new chapel because of the history behind the project. “It’s not the most elegant thing I’ve worked on, but it is a very neat building, and it’s going to be for a good cause,” Roberts says. “I think it’s the fact that it was built by World War II veterans… They probably built this thinking it was only going to last for a little while.” But now that the new chapel is being restored, it’s expected that the Eternal Father of the Sea will be around for generations to come.
The anticipated construction completion date is September 2015, and the estimated construction cost is $1,923,739.82. Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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