Sacred Space

In a rare collaboration, classical architects and artisans from around the city rally to restore a Philip Shutze-designed chapel at Grady Memorial Hospital

There are few things that invigorate Atlanta’s classical architecture community more than the work of local legend Philip Trammell Shutze. So in 2008—when rumor had it that the 50-year-old Shutze-designed Goddard Memorial Chapel at Grady Hospital had received funding for a historical restoration—Jonathan LaCrosse of D. Stanley Dixon Architect, Steve Markey of Harrison Design Associates and Clay Ulmer of NCG Architects jumped at the chance to preserve the landmark.

“It’s this unique, classical 18th-century chapel designed in the 1950s that takes its place among a labyrinth of modernism,” says LaCrosse. “And that’s part of its power as you walk through the maze that is Grady Hospital.”

The second-to-last project Shutze designed, and his last ecclesiastical space, the Goddard Chapel is now considered the most intact Shutze design in existence, thanks to a collaboration that united not only architects, builders and contractors but also the Goddard family and foundations attracted to the importance of chaplaincy.

The primary goal: to restore the chapel to its original state, in keeping with Shutze’s vision. The first order of business was to undo a few well-meaning but misguided “updates,” such as restoring the luster to gilding that had been spray-painted gold (which subsequently turned black), removing layers of whitewash from what had once been hand-rubbed paint finishes, and refinishing marble floors that had been subjected to years of cleaning with linoleum wax.

Restoring that authenticity, however, proved challenging, as many of the chapel’s unique design elements had either worn thin to the point of disintegration (as with many of its kneelers) or simply disappeared (like the crimson damask draperies which reportedly walked out the door on the shoulders of a homeless person).

In addition to being resourceful—they hired artisans and contractors intimately familiar with Shutze’s residential work—the restoration team experienced several fortuitous moments. Just before the project began, George Smith, the architectural project manager for Grady, unearthed original blueprints in hospital storage. And on the day Mr. Goddard’s relatives came to review finishes for the chapel, the architecture team stumbled upon the original cross, standard and brass book stand, which had been gathering dust in a hospital closet.

Lacrosse likes to attribute the incidents to divine intervention from Shutze himself, particularly after spending hours at the Atlanta History Center delving into historical records only to accidentally uncover an image of the chapel in a 1962 issue of Atlanta Magazine. “It was like the ghost of Shutze was handing it to us,” he says.

But restoring the chapel to its former glory proved most compelling. “The space is an architectural masterpiece that’s restored people’s spirit,” Lacrosse says. “Seeing it look like a church again, how much people care about it and how much architecture matters became a labor of love for a lot of people.”