SAVED: Tiffany Studios Stained Glass Windows

SAVED: Tiffany Studios Stained Glass Windows

From 1924 to 1926, the United States Mausoleum Company built the Abbey Mausoleum adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. Built on land that had been owned by the Syphax family — which had ties to Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s estate — the Abbey Mausoleum was a majestic building with a granite exterior, bronze front doors, extensive marble in the interior, and gorgeous stained glass windows. At 50,000 sf, the building was neoclassical in design and contained over 650 crypts. The first person was interred in early 1925 and ultimately 245 people were interred there.

The historic Abbey Mausoleum, once located adjacent to Arlington Cemetery
The historic Abbey Mausoleum, once located adjacent to Arlington Cemetery

In the 1950s the Abbey Mausoleum Corporation declared bankruptcy and the building endured a long downward cycle of neglect and vandalism. Maintenance of the mausoleum fell on its closest neighbors, the U.S. Marines stationed at nearby Henderson Hall.

The Abbey Mausoleum.
An event at the Abbey Mausoleum.

In 2000, the U.S. Navy took ownership of the site and determined that demolition was the best solution. The Army Corps of Engineers undertook the task of relocating the remains of those who were still interred there.

In the meantime, Arlington County reached an agreement with the Navy to obtain ownership and salvage a variety of architectural components from the building, including the windows. At this time no one was aware of the pedigree of the items.

When workers carefully removed the stained glass windows, a stunning inscription was discovered in the lower right-hand corner of one window: Louis C. Tiffany N. Y. Anyone who watches the popular PBS show Antiques Roadshow knows that it is important to determine if the signature, the quality, and style of the pieces correlate. Arlington County was able to determine that “the inscription coincides with those used by Louis C. Tiffany at the time this window was created, confirming its authenticity to the degree possible, absent written documentation regarding its commission.”

The Tiffany Room at the Arlington Arts Center (formerly the historic Maury School).
The Tiffany Room at the Arlington Arts Center (formerly the historic Maury School).

It would parallel that such a prestigious burial place, with a high level of design and located adjacent to Arlington Cemetery, would include something of this quality. Tiffany’s stained glass studio was extremely popular in this period of time.

Once removed, the windows were sent to nearby Shenandoah Stained Glass, where workers spent three months hand-cleaning each piece of glass. Each window chosen for preservation was then placed into a new aluminum frame.

Twelve of the Tiffany windows had a simple pattern with a floral center piece and a geometric border. One additional window was more complex and had been dedicated to E. St. Clair Thompson, a wealthy Mason interred in 1933. That window portrayed an image of Christ — unfortunately, it was also the most damaged and not repairable. Reusing the fragments of those windows that had been damaged beyond repair, a total of seven windows and one skylight were eventually restored.


Interior and Exterior views of the Tiffany windows at the Westover Library.
Interior and exterior views of the Tiffany windows at the Westover Library.

Three of the windows are now on display and provide a beautiful setting in a gallery at the Arlington Arts Center, in the historic Maury School Building. Four of the windows are part of the new Westover Library in the renovated and expanded Reed School Building. The skylight once again brings light into a lobby as it welcomes people into the Fairlington Community Center, located in the historic Fairlington School.

The Tiffany skylight at the Fairlington Community Center.
The Tiffany skylight at the Fairlington Community Center.

Preservation Arlington recognizes the extra effort and care that was taken to save and restore these works of art. Originally installed to bring grace and comfort to the Abbey Mausoleum, these amazing glass pieces now grace three public buildings in Arlington. As timeless architectural design pieces they continue to bring a sense of comfort and elegance to Arlington.

Watch this video of the installation at Westover:

Historic photos: Library of Congress
Westover Exterior: Cox Graae + Spack Architects
Remaining photos: Arlington County Arts

One thought on “SAVED: Tiffany Studios Stained Glass Windows

  1. Very nice effort. I’ve seen the windows at the Arts Center and they are beautiful.

    Good foresight and effort on Arlington’s part to preserve these treasures.

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