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Old Whalers’ Gets Facelift

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By Claire Walla

Chipped paint. Damaged window frames. At 157 years old, it’s no surprise the Old Whalers’ Church is in desperate need of cosmetic repairs, least of which being a new coat of paint.

“The church [parishioners] knew this was something they wanted to do for a number of years,” said Pastor Mark Phillips. But the high cost of the makeover — estimated to come out at anywhere from $125,000 to $300,000 — always deterred the parish from following through with its plans to paint.

This fall, however, the church’s prayers were answered.

As Rev. Phillips put it, “Christmas came early to the congregation.”

In August, the entire exterior of the Egyptian and Greek Revival Style building received structural repairs in preparation for a brand new coat of paint, which was finally finished being applied earlier this week.

The project was a gift from long-time church members Diane Cleveland Cunningham and Bart Cleveland who came forward to have this project completed in memory of their parents, Arthur and Theresa Cleveland.

The cost of the project would have been “way beyond the church’s ability to do,”

Rev. Phillips continued. “We would have had to have had a capital campaign to pay for it.”

But luckily, he continued, the church never had to venture into the fundraising realm.

“We didn’t see one bill,” Rev. Phillips said of the paint job. The church actually paid for the structural changes — like replacing wooden window frames — in preparation for the project. All the windows on the newer addition, which dates back to 1899, were repaired; while the windows of the sanctuary, which were replaced in 2004, were largely untouched. But Rev. Phillips said the price of these repairs only cost the church somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000.

The real grunt work came with the paint. “No one can actually remember for sure when [the building] was last painted,” Rev. Phillips — who came to Old Whalers’ last year — reported with a grin.

While the three front towers were actually repainted about 10 years ago for a wedding, the rest of the building was probably tended to about 20 years ago, if not more, he estimated.

The Clevelands, who live in New Jersey and Florida but grew up in Sag Harbor and still come back here from time to time, organized the entire project. They chose the contracting company for the job (which came all the way from New Jersey), and even decided on the type of paint, a special coating called Durashield, a heavy duty polyurethane enamel. Rev. Phillips said it’s estimated to last a good 30 years.

“The church really had to do very little,” Rev. Phillips reiterated.

Rev. Phillips said the Clevelands had done some other projects for the church, but explained that painting the exterior was something the siblings really wanted to do for their congregation. There’s still a lot of painting on the building’s interior that Rev. Phillips said still needs to get done at some point, in addition to some general maintenance projects. But for now he’s extremely grateful that the building’s exterior is up to snuff.

“We like to think of it as a gift to the community, as well,” Rev. Phillips added.

In 1994 the church was named a National Historic landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior. So it’s restoration is in keeping with the building’s historic significance.

“Had the donors not stepped in,” Rev. Phillips continued, “I don’t know when the project would have been done… or even if.”