Built in 1865 to 1875, the cornerstone of Saint Dominic's Church was placed on November 19, 1865, just months after the conclusion of the Civil War. There had been previous iterations of the church, which included St. Mary’s “Barry Chapel,” that was erected in 1807 to serve the Catholic population in what now makes up Southwest DC. The current Saint Dominic's Church, as designed by Patrick Keely, was dedicated in 1875 and would serve an even larger congregation – and continues to do so to this day.
Its English Gothic Style denotes both the grandeur of the space, as well as the meditational and spiritualistic manner of its use. At its inception, the church consisted of many different parts: a tower, aisles, seven chapels, a large vestibule, vestry and meeting rooms, an arcade, and more. Large and expansive, it houses many relics and altars as part of the Dominican order.
The church would go through several renovations and rehabilitations, twice due to fires that caused extensive damage to the internal and external portions of the building. The first would be in 1885, and then another in 1929. It is said, in the church’s long history, that both Catholic and Protestants raised funds to restore the church following the first fire. Other elements of the church that are important to its history include the Hilborne Roosevelt Organ, which is one of the few surviving organs made by Hilborne and Frank Roosevelt, who established and operated Roosevelt Organ works from 1872 to 1893, and were cousins of President Theodore Roosevelt. Another installation during this era of rehabilitation includes the large bronze bell that was placed in the tower and still rings today. The church was consecrated in 1919.
Following the fires, the church was threatened again in the 1950s, when the Redevelopment Act wreaked havoc on Southwest Washington. Much of Southwest was leveled, including Saint Dominic’s Convent, original priory, and school. Congress would become involved to protect the church. Additionally, Interstate 395 was constructed immediately south of the church. The famous glass windows, designed by the renowned Edward W. Heimer family and produced by Heimer and Company Stained Glass Studio in Clifton, New Jersey, were installed in 1965.
DC Inventory: July 24, 1968 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)