For David Shorter, Thursday morning brought back a monumental memory.

He was in the seventh or eighth grade at West Ashley's Blessed Sacrament School in the 1960s when a construction crew installed the twin spires atop the new Catholic church next door. The schoolchildren were allowed to step over the steeples before they were hoisted into place.

Of course, Shorter also remembers them being blown down by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and the church's brick towers have stood unadorned ever since. At least until Thursday.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church

The broken remains of one of the twin spires of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church rests on the ground after Hurricane Hugo hit the Charleston area on September 21, 1989. File/Stephanie Harvin/Staff

Shorter was among a few dozen who gathered just outside the church to watch as a construction crew hoisted the first steeple back into place.

"I ain't missing this for no reason," he said. "Twice in a lifetime."

The spectacle was so dramatic that those involved waited until after the morning rush hour on Savannah Highway, reducing the chance of causing any wrecks. Thursday's weather was near perfect: clear skies and only the slightest breeze. But a computer glitch with a construction crane ended up delaying the lift until the lunch hour.

But by 1:20 p.m., the first one — weighing almost 3 tons — was stood up and hoisted off the ground. Ten minutes later it was in place.

Two hours before, Father Armulfo Galvez and the Rev. Derrick Sneyd held a short service outside the church and blessed the spires with prayers and holy water as traffic hummed by.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church

Father Armulfo Galvez held a short service outside the church and blessed the spires with prayers and holy water before crews with Magee Ratcliff Construction and Allstate Crane installed on on top of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Thursday, August 1, 2019. The original spires were blown down during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Brad Nettles/Staff

Tom Magee was among those who turned out to watch. His son, Ryan, is a lead partner with Magee Ratcliffe Construction, which is doing the installation. 

Tom Magee said he remembered the original steeples lying across Savannah Highway, "and the National Guard pushed them up in front of the church just to get them out of the road."

After Hugo, the church spent its insurance proceeds and other repair dollars on removing asbestos, which was seen as its top priority. And the steeples largely stayed out of mind until a few years ago, when an anonymous parishioner made a $160,000 contribution toward replacing them.

Architect Gary Boehm of Glick Boehm Associates has guided renovations and upgrades to Blessed Sacrament's campus for two decades. He said the new steeples are a crowning touch to all that work. Reaching about 140 feet into the sky, he said they also will be the tallest in West Ashley.

Boehm had a unique challenge: Design new steeples that emulate the originals as much as possible while making sure they can withstand stronger winds.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church

Workers with Magee Ratcliff Construction and Allstate Crane install one of two new twin spires onto Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Thursday, August 1, 2019. The original spires were blown down during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Brad Nettles/Staff

Joe Pinto, head of Blessed Sacrament's building committee, agreed.

"One of the major hurdles was the city approving the new wind load," he said.

Structural engineer Mark Dillon of ADC Engineering helped figure that out.

"We started with photos of the church steeples before Hugo took them down," Boehm said. "Further research turned up an 'ancient' and incomplete set of working drawings, dated 1960 ... even an original rendering by the deceased Ohio architect."

While early plans showed smooth steeples, the original ones built had vents, or nostrils.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church

Workers with Magee Ratcliff Construction and Allstate Crane install one of two new twin spires onto Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Thursday, August 1, 2019. The original spires were blown down during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Brad Nettles/Staff

"Our best guess is that these strange features were actually air vents, added during the construction period, to keep the light weight structure — made out of painted plywood and precariously attached — from blowing off," Boehm said. "It didn’t work."

Boehm considered making fiberglass molds to stick onto the new steeples to emulate the vents, but "the idea of 'sticking' something on seemed to be a good rationale for not having them. The church building committee, pastor, city Design Review Board and the Diocese Building Review Board all agreed."

The other difference can be seen at the very top, where each steeple will end in 7-foot-tall crosses made from anodized aluminum square tube, with a gold-bronze finish. One of the originals had a similar cross, but the other had a crown.

"The pastor of the church saw no liturgical significance to the crown," Boehm said.

While the steeples reach about as tall as the round Holiday Inn, they are lower than downtown's tallest points. The city's tallest steeple is that of Saint Matthew's Lutheran Church, which reaches 255 feet. The next is atop Citadel Square Baptist Church across Marion Square, at 210 feet. St. Michael's and St. Philip's reach to about 193 feet and 200 feet, respectively.

The steeples were custom-made by Fiberglass Specialties in Henderson, Texas.

While Blessed Sacrament's building is a little more than 50 years old, the parish itself will mark its 75th anniversary in October.

It's actually the second prominent Catholic church in the Charleston area to get a new steeple in recent years.

In 2010, St. John the Baptist, the Catholic cathedral on Broad Street, added a new spire that reached 151 feet in the air, or 167 feet counting the gilded cross on top.

By 5 p.m., Blessed Sacrament's second steeple was in place and getting secured. Other finishing touches will be added during the next few weeks. By the end of next week, the new spires should be illuminated at night.

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Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.

Robert Behre works as an editor and reporter. He focuses on the historical landscape, including architecture, archaeology and whatever piques his interest on a particular day.

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