In the early 20s, the congregation, originally called the Madison Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church was rapidly outgrowing its Romanesque 1882 R. H. Robertson-designed structure on Madison and 60th Street. A plot was purchased one block away on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 60th Street in 1929. The title was signed in September -- exactly one month before the Stock Market crash and the onset of the Great Depression.
Using the funds from the sale of the former church and land, plans went on. The church, now officially renamed Christ Church, Methodist Episcopal, of New York City retained architect Ralph Adams Cram --reknowned for his ecclesiastical and collegiate buildings -- to design the new structure. Having just finished a 22-year position as Supervising Architect of Princeton University, Cram had earned his reputation with such commission as The Cathedral of St. John the Divine and 5th Avenue's St. Thomas Church.
While Cram was highly recognized as a master of Gothic design, he chose a combination of Romanesque and Byzantine styles for the Park Avenue church. Protestants, he explained, were "adverse to Medieval Catholicism both by inheritance and doctrine."
Anything but light and airy, Cram's building -- at once sophisticated and rough -- combined brick and stone, pillars and arches to create the illusion of a venerable, centuries-old structure. Its solid mass is softened by the deep 60th Street arches and the pillared gallery of the top-most level.
Cram's plans included a sanctuary seating 800 congregants, a chapel that could accomodate 110 and a parish hall large enough to hold 250. Included in the complex was a parish house incorporating a gymnasium, clubrooms, a men's lounge and women's parlors. The nave and chapel were dedicated November 26, 1933 however the Depression finally took its toll. Funds ran out and no interior work could be done. Unadorned grey concrete walls would surround the congregation for years.
Timing is everything. Just as the Great Depression started to ease it's grip, World War I broke out in Europe and two years later in 1941 the United States was drawn in with the attack on Pearl Harbor. The resulting shortages in materials prevented any interior work being done on Christ Church until 1948.
Interior photographs courtesy Christ Church United Methodist