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OHNY Weekend, Part II: Sacred Institutions of the Upper West Side

Churches and synagogues constituted the vast majority of the Upper West Side sites open for visits during this weekend's 9th Annual OHNY (openhousenewyork). While I didn't have the time to visit the ones open only on Sunday, the three sites of worship I visited on Saturday - First Baptist Church, the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, and St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church - revealed a spiritual side of New York City that many visitors never see (with a few notable exceptions such as St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity Church, and Cathedral of St. John the Divine).

Walking to the churches involved passing by several well-known Upper West Side landmarks, certainly not on the OHNY list - for they lack architectural distinction - but, for sure, worshipped and glorified for more secular (and delicious) reasons.

Fairway
Not on the OHNY list but an important institution in its own right - Fairway on Broadway at 74th Street.


For this moveable self-guided walking feast, plan on starting at the subway station at Verdi Square. On Saturday, when I emerged from the subway and headed north on Broadway, I was immediately tempted by a food cart from Screme Gelato, the first of many culinary wonders on my sacred tour. The more powerful food magnets were still ahead - Fairway on Broadway at 74th Street, "like no other market" as the store describes itself, an institution at this location since the 1930s, and Zabar's, the sprawling gourmet emporium at Broadway and W. 80th St. By all means, give in, for these stores are a vibrant part of New York's spiritual life, providing bounty for many a celebration.

Zabar's
Another sacred location for some - Zabar's


And now, let's visit three church buildings, official sites of the 9th annual OHNY weekend:

• First Baptist Church, 265 W 79th St and Broadway
Architect: George Keister; 1890-1893

First Baptist Church
First Baptist Church, 265 W 79th St and Broadway, exterior

First Baptist Church
First Baptist Church, 265 W 79th St and Broadway, interior


This fascinating church building at the corner of Broadway at 79th Street attracts attention for its eclectic and theatrical Italian Romanesque design. A surprising challenge to the conventional notions of a Baptist church, the structure features fanciful classical spires and a large rose window above the entrance. The interior is more subdued, infused with warm sunlight streaming through the windows. After seeing the sanctuary, I had a nice chat with a church pastor in the parish hall. The church had set out refreshments for visitors, and I thanked the pastor for the oatmeal raisin cookie.

First Baptist Church Website

• Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, 263 W 86th St/ West End Ave
Architect: R.H. Robertson; 1895

Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew
Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, 263 W. 86th St. and West End Avenue


Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew
Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, interior

The architect R.H. Robertson made his mark on several New York buildings, drawing upon the influence of H.H. Richardson's Romanesque Revival style, especially earlier in his career. Robertson designed the neoclassical New York Savings Bank on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, the Park Row Building downtown (15 Park Row), and the American Tract Society Building, also downtown at 150 Nassau Street. The church design here is a mix of Romanesque, Renaissance and Classical styles with a large octagonal tower and a sprawling interior, including a vast sanctuary and a surprising lecture hall-turned theater. While visiting, I was delighted to recall that I had actually visited the theater four years ago to see a friend's rough cut of his film in progress.

My tour guides were two parishioners who exuded upbeat enthusiasm for their parish home. I learned from them that this congregation affiliated with the United Methodist church shares the space with the Congregation B’Nai Jeshurun and the Sacred Center of New York. In the spirit of partnership, the banner hanging from the imposing arch of the shared sanctuary reads "HOW GOOD ITS IS WHEN BROTHERS AND SISTERS DWELL TOGETHER IN HARMONY." My guides also showed me the facility where the church operates a large emergency food program.

Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew Church website

• St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, 552 West End Ave near 87th
Architect: Charles Coolidge Haight. 1901

St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church
St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, 552 West End Ave near 87th

St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church
St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church


I only got a brief glimpse of the interior of St. Ignatius of Antioch - beautiful and dark, in that splendid English Gothic way. Above the High Altar, made of white marble, are statues of St. Mary and of St. Ignatius, and above these statues is a soaring stained glass window made in Birmingham, England. In addition, the Lady Chapel features a shrine designed by the American Gothic Revival architect Ralph Adams Cram (1863-19842). A little farther uptown, Cram had the extraordinary but heavy responsibility for designing the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

The reason that my visit was brief was that the church unfortunately did not get adequate staffing to keep it open for OHNY. A priest explained the situation to me and let me slip in to get a look. I didn't want to bother him as he was busy doing something else. He was standing outside the church and behind a table, pouring cups of water and handing out sack lunches to a line of hungry men.

Website for St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

After my visits to these OHNY sites on the Upper West Side, I thought that this was the New York that few visitors get to see. And I wasn't thinking about grocery shopping or architecture.


View WOTBA OHNY Weekend in a larger map

Related posts:

• Read OHNY Weekend, Part I: A Lobby and Two Libraries in Midtown
• Read OHNY Weekend, Part III: A Ballroom, A Penthouse, and the Streets Between

Official site for openhousenewyork.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from October 15, 2011.

Comments

Phil Davis said…
If you ever get a chance to visit inside St. Michael's Episcopal at 99th and Amsterdam, it's worth it. The interior was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. There is a chapel with a mosaic of Tiffany glass and the stained glass windows behind the altar are tiffany windows. It's unique and beautiful.

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