|An orgy of visual delights, Mould's design included a circular overlight above the entrance and a balcony at the third floor. Old Buildings of New York City, 1907 (copyright expired)|
Decades later, in 1914, The Pacific Unitarian recalled that by 1852 "the First Congregational Church had grown so strong that once again it decided to move to a more desirable part of town." Land was acquired on the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue (later Park Avenue South) and 20th Street, "one of the choicest residence parts of the city, still certified by Gramercy Park, near by."
The trustees set out to find an architect, initially choosing C. F. Anderson. Although the board approved his plans it's president, Moses H. Grinnell, rejected them. He had his eye on a young English architect, 27-year old Jacob Wrey Mould. The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide explained later, "Mr. Mould came to this country, it is said, at the instance of Moses H. Grinnell, to design a Unitarian church. At any rate his first employment was to design the Church of All Souls."
Mould's plans, submitted to the board of trustees on July 8, 1853, were possibly shocking to some of its more conservative members. His vibrant Italian Romanesque design featured alternating red brick and white limestone creating a striped effect. As Helen W. Henderson explained in her 1917 A Loiterer in New York, “This was...long before New York had become accustomed to see planted, on her stern rock foundations, those exotics that now bloom so easily in the strong sea-light of the island city.”
Whether the other board members approved on not, Grinnell was won over. Rev. Bellows would later remark that Grinnell was "bewitched by the architect."
|The rectory sits behind the church, which took on the popular name The Church of the Holy Zebra. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
|Rev. Bellows sat for Civil War photographer Matthew Brady for this portrait. from the collection of the Library of Congress|
Family historian Thomas Bellows, in his The Bellows Genealogy, described Eliza as "a woman of strong spiritual and intellectual endowments and, although always delicate in health, entered heart and soul into the various duties of domestic and parochial life."
The wife of the pastor of a wealthy congregation like this one (it counted among its influential and well-known members the likes of William Cullen Bryant, Peter Cooper, and Joseph H. Choate) oversaw a domestic staff like other society women.
Things apparently did not always work out with servants; but Eliza Bellows seems to have been accommodating in allowing them to see prospective employers in the house. An advertisement in The New York Herald on September 30, 1856 read: "Wanted--A situation by a respectable woman, as laundress, who has a perfect knowledge of her business, and has the best of city references. Can be seen for two days at the parsonage of All Souls' church, corner of 20th st. and 4th avenue." And in May 1858 another servant was looking to move on. Her ad read, "Wanted--A situation by a respectable girl, as waitress, or as chambermaid and waitress. Apply at Dr. Bellows' parsonage house, All Soul's church."
Eliza was hostess to any number of gatherings in the rectory. Thomas Bellows recalled "Their home was always the centre of a wide and generous hospitality, and the young minister lent a patient and willing ear to all sorts of appeals in behalf of educational and philanthropic schemes with which he was supposed to have sympathy."
Among the groups that would meet in the library or drawing room was the Sanitary Commission, formed by Bellows after he convinced President Lincoln of the need to protect soldiers in the field as much as possible against unsanitary conditions. In an open letter to the Executive Finance Committee in the City of New York in 1861 Bellows pleaded in part "In such a struggle, it is madness to waste a single hour, still more a single life. Most of all should we avoid the ruinous delay of slowly replacing in the wasted camp the tens of thousands which our neglect may thoughtlessly leave to die, almost within our sight."
Following the war the house saw meetings of the Flower Mission, which distributed fresh flowers to hospitals during the warm months of June through September, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
|The women of the Flower Mission distribute flowers in the Women's Ward of the Convalescent Hospital. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 5, 1877 (copyright expired)|
|Saint-Gaudens's massive bronze tablet of Bellows. A Loiterer in New York, 1917 (copyright expired)|
The New York Flower Mission continued to be headquartered in the former rectory, and in 1909 the Unitarian Advance, a monthly magazine "of Progress in Religion" had its offices here. The following year The Individual and Social Justice League of America was formed at a meeting in the building. The New York Times described it as "an anti-Socialism organization, having in it many prominent preachers, educators, labor union men and legislators."
|In 1929 the once-vibrant contrast of red brick and white stone was dulled by soot and grime and significant deterioration of the stonework below the second floor was evident. photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
In 1917 Park Avenue, once lined with elegant mansions, was a busy thoroughfare. The church doors were locked and the entrance was moved around the corner to the former rectory. "One enters [the church] through Dr. Bellows' house," explained Helen Henderson in her A Loiterer in New York, "now transformed into a church house and a hive of useful activities." She lamented, however, that the church proper was "neglected and shabby. Its stone work is scaling off, its garden is overgrown, and its gates padlocked and rusty."
The congregation sold the property in 1929 for $475,000--more than $7 million today. The church sat empty for two years before being destroyed by fire on August 23, 1931. The ruins and its rectory, called by The New York Times "one of the most remarkable architectural creations ever placed upon Manhattan Island," were replaced by a brown brick apartment building.