It’s hard to miss the massive stained-glass windows at Central Presbyterian Church.
“When people come in, they’re in awe,” said Gail Taglieri, secretary at the church along Allegheny Street in Tarentum.
“It’s such beauty and art. The reverence I feel is a reminder that there’s something greater than ourselves out there.”
The first windows painted by Italian immigrants are about to become even more resplendent.
The recently church received a $10,000 grant to redo some of the intricate displays first hung in 1913 when Woodrow Wilson was president.
Money will come from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation And is the fifth such endowment from the group toward the church’s long-term project that is expected to top $335,000.
The grant is made available through the foundation’s Historic Religious Properties program.
Over the years, soot has become entrenched between the once-brilliant glass and diminished some of the clarity.
“On a sunny morning 10 years ago, the light would shine so brightly,” said David Rankin, a church session member. “The difference to now is incredible.”
Central Presbyterian is among 17 congregations in Allegheny County to split $155,000 in PHLF grants this year, according to David Farkas, the group’s director of real estate development.
There were 23 congregations that applied.
Money will pay for restoration projects that include cornice repair, masonry and roofing. Other places to earn the grants 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 at the church. Work will target the 11 small classroom-size windows along the front side of the building, Rankin said.
That includes three first-floor windows and six on the upper level, along with two transoms above the front entrance.
The cost is expected to be about $38,500.
“The lion’s share of the funds for this phase of 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 from the lead church in West Deer sought to offer religious services north of the township, where many people began to move as industries boomed.
Designed by Butler architect Harry Wimer, Central Presbyterian is built in the classical style of uncoursed ashlar, according to Frank Stroker, PHLF director of historical resources and collections.
The massive hip-roofed church is built of stone and considered one of the most significant buildings in the region, Rankin said.
The sanctuary is shaped like a rotunda with 10 tiny rooms around the perimeter. It seats 1,000.
Rankin first began fundraising for window restoration in 1999, but it took 15 years for work to begin.
To date, each of the four large Tudor-arched windows have been restored to their original glory, as have all of the windows on the rear of the building next to the church’s parking lot and all of the windows along Third Avenue.
When complete, the church will have replaced all 45 windows, including three large exterior picture windows along Third Avenue and one large art window on Allegheny Street, two transoms and 37 classroom windows. There also are two enormous stained-glass skylights 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 churches provide a thriving community outreach schedule.
“Grants are awarded based not only on the need, but also because they are deeply involved in providing critical social services to their neighborhoods and make the religious building available for various community uses,” he said.
Monthly programs at the Tarentum church include a clothing closet, free lunches, a $1 breakfast and a concert series.
“The congregation is meaningfully involved with the community, which helped it stand out,” Farkas said. “We are excited about helping them complete their multiyear stained-glass window restoration initiative, and the results are dramatic and can be appreciated by both users of the church and those just passing by the street.”
Central Presbyterian also has previously been awarded $15,000 in grants from the Ira Wood Charitable Trust for some of the work.
Rankin expects at least three more phases before work concludes. Ideally, it would be one more phase to complete the classroom windows along Fourth Avenue and one phase for each of the sanctuary skylights, he said.
Remaining costs are expected to top $108,000.
“While about 80% of the funds have come through the members and friends of Central’s congregation, there is still room for the community to get involved,” Rankin said.
Windows can be restored in memory of a loved one, which is where the bulk of contributions have stemmed from.
Farkas said the grant program was founded to respond to this specific need.
“These great houses of worship represent some of the most impressive architecture in our region but are very expensive to maintain,” Farkas said. “We launched the program so that these buildings would remain vital parts of our neighborhoods for years to come.”