Friday, February 25, 2011

West End Collegiate Church - West End Avenue and 77th Street

photo Alice Lum

In 1880 much of the Upper West Side was still sparsely-settled farmland.  A decade later, however, the area was alive with new construction, pioneered by the 1884 Dakota Apartment building on Central Park West.

Many residents had to travel back downtown to attend church services while the neighborhoods were developing.  In response, on October 16, 1890, the Consistory of the Collegiate Church formed a committee to search out a site for a new church and school.  Three months later the committee had purchased, for $89,000, four residential-sized lots on West End Avenue and three adjoining lots on 77th Street.

Architect Robert W. Gibson, who was given the commission, veered far from the customary Gothic Revival or Romanesque churches expected on New York streets. Drawing from the city’s early heritage, he designed a charming Dutch Colonial structure with a stepped gable and Baroque finials.

The cornerstone of West End Collegiate Church was laid on October 24, 1891, at which time The New York Times predicted, “The new church and school will be one of the finest religious edifices in the city.”  Designed to accommodate 750 worshippers, the newspaper went on to say that “The entrances will be by porches and vestibules, so arranged as to exclude draughts without making necessary the use of storm doors….The windows are large, with mullions suitable for stained glass. The roofs are steep, with gables and dormers much as in the Gothic style.”

Based on the 17th century Vleeshal, a butcher’s guildhall in Haarlem, it used “long, thin brick of a Roman pattern and brown in color, trimmed freely with quoins and blockings of buff terra-cotta,” as described in the church’s yearbook the next year.  The congregation approved an additional $5,000 to use tiles rather than slate for the roof.  The yearbook went on to say, “Some very picturesque panels carved with the coats-of-arms of the church and of past benefactors are also in terra cotta.”

The interior would be as unconventional as the outside.  “The church will have a gallery over the vestibules and porches, without any columns to interfere with the ground floor,” said The New York Times.  “The roof is in open timber work of trusses supporting beams formed in panels.  To the east of the church are the ladies’ parlors, chapel and school.”

photo NYPL Collection

Completed 1892, the church was dedicated on November 21 with an overflow crowd.  Using words like “quaint” and “picturesque,” The New York Times gave a flowery description of the finished structure, saying, “…and from its peaked roof there turns to the wind an ancient weathercock, which has ornamented the spires of several of the old churches, not long passed away, and which were once conspicuous buildings in the lower part of the city.”

The connected school building -- photo Alice Lum

West End Collegiate clung to its Dutch connections and during World War II established itself as a headquarters for aid to Dutch refugees and relief efforts.  Twice during this period Princess Juliana of the Netherlands visited the church.

A fire in the sanctuary during the 1980's necessitated extensive restoration and reconstruction, headed by Hall Partnership Architects, LLP., and in 1999 another restoration was initiated, which focused on the roof and terra cotta, by LZA Group.

The beautiful church and school were designated New York City landmarks in 1967, at which time the Landmarks Designation Commission said that “this group of buildings gives an aura of old world charm to the residential area in which it is located.”


  1. love the architecture...

  2. So do I, Maureen ... and the snow in the pics that Alice took for me makes it all look very beautiful.