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On Sunday, following Divine Liturgy, Father John Hennies, the community and friends of Saint Dimitri Orthodox Church, will gather for the blessing of the new bell tower at 2270 39th St.
The bell tower grew out of a desire to improve the building’s identification as well as to simplify giving directions on how to reach the church.
More than a year ago, Saint Dimitri staff sought to put up a sign at the corner of 39th Street and Diamond Drive, the nearest corner to the property located at the end of a cul-de-sac. When they approached Los Alamos County regarding sign requirements, they were informed that after the completion of the then-pending street construction on Diamond Drive, there would be no permission to put up a sign at that location.
As a result, someone suggested putting up a steeple so that the difficulty of finding Saint Dimitri Church could be mitigated. The response to this suggestion was, orthodox churches generally don’t have steeples, but they do have domes, often, onion domes.
From an historical prospective, onion domes are a type of uniform architectural dome seen across Eastern Europe and often associated with Russian Orthodox churches. Saint Dimitri Orthodox Church is part of the Orthodox Church in America that was begun in Alaska in 1794 as the North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 1970 the Russian Orthodox Church granted autocephaly (self-governance) to the Orthodox Church in America, but many Russian traditions are still maintained, including music and architectural style. With that heritage and the wood structure of the building the church uses, an onion dome seemed appropriate.
With the seed planted, the work was begun that culminated in the construction of the new bell tower. The church was able to locate a manufacturer of onion domes in the Midwest. This manufacturer had begun its business more than 20 years ago when members of a nearby Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ohio could not locate anyone to repair the onion domes on their church built in the early 1900s.
As soon as the ideas began to germinate, there were several generous financial gifts that made the construction of the bell tower a possibility. A special dinner with traditional ethnic dishes and lots of holiday baked goods added to the resources needed to turn the dream into reality.
Next followed the challenge of finding an architect that would design a bell tower around an onion dome, not a common architectural element in northern New Mexico. Lisa-Jo Dunham, an architect in Los Alamos, accepted the challenge and the constraints that would be part of the task.
Dunham visited the site and quickly drew up plans that included graceful arches at the base of the tower.
Shortly after the initial design was drawn, a Romanian architect who had built five churches in Bucharest was visiting Los Alamos and was asked for his ideas on designing the Bell Tower. As soon as he sketched nearly identical, graceful arches for the base of the tower, the community knew that they were very fortunate with the selection of Dunham as the architect.
With architectural plans completed and the dome ordered, the task of building began. Creston Builders of Abiquiu selected a local team for the construction work, headed by Todd Wiuff.
This local “team” expanded to include Ace Hardware, which offered its space on DP Road for off-loading the 8-foot tall crate that contained the dome for its shipment from Ohio.
This past Monday all the team members put their talents and physical strength together in placing the dome on the top of the tower.
Since the mechanical lift that had been ordered did not arrive, due to its transport truck breaking down before reaching Los Alamos, the onion dome and its cross were lifted into place using pulleys and lifts and lots of manpower in the very “traditional” way of building.
The blessing of the bell tower will take place after Sunday’s Divine Liturgy and should begin about 11:30 a.m. Saint Dimitri Orthodox Church invites the community to join in on this special day. For additional information, call Hennies at 412-5707.