Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Church of the Blessed Sacrament - No. 152 West 71st Street

photo by Alice Lum
The Upper West Side of Manhattan, by 1914, had changed from a sparsely-populated rural area to one bursting with grand apartment buildings on the avenues and commodious row houses on the streets. The lovely Roman Catholic Church of the Blessed Sacrament which opened its doors in 1888 was no longer large enough to contain its burgeoning congregation.

The young architect Gustave E. Steinback was given the commission to design a new edifice. Drawing on 13th Century French Gothic styles – particularly Louis IX’s Sainte Chapelle on the Ile de la Cite in Paris – the architect produced a lofty stone structure dominated by an enormous rose window over the main entrance. Steinback, in the Gothic tradition, embellished the exterior with lavish sculpture and carvings.
photo by Church of the Blessed Sacrament
The church was completed late in 1920 at a cost of $600,000. It was the interior that most impressed the critics. The 1920 issue of Architecture and Building said “There is a very practical side to the interior finishing of this church. While its color effects are soft and pleasing to the eye, the finishing material serves another purpose in that it has acoustic properties, being designed to partial [sic] absorb sound and to prevent echo and reverberations.”

photo by Church of the Blessed Sacrament
Steinback used three shades of material to “prevent monotony to the eye.” The patterned tile floor, executed by D. H. McLawry Tile Company, ran uninterrupted throughout. But it was Clement Heaton’s stained glass windows that stood out.

Architecture and Building remarked, “The natural lighting of the church is soft and subdued due to the beautiful ornamental glass windows…The rose window is a particular striking piece of ornamentation, occupying the large vaulted space over the organ loft. The beautiful tracery of the design is featured in the exterior.”

photo by Church of the Blessed Sacrament
While it adhere to medieval traditions in style, the church did not ignore the conveniences of the 20th Century. A vacuum cleaner system was installed by the Allen & Millmyre Company; an amenity not found in Sainte Chapelle!

The church attracted a wide variety of parishioners. Here on August 29, 1928 the church was packed with Broadway notables for the funeral of George M. Cohan’s mother, Mrs. Jere Cohan. Two years later, on November 16, a high requiem mass was celebrated for former Supreme Justice William P. Burr. Over 300 mourners, many of them well-known jurists, attended the mass during a downpour of rain.

photo by Alice Lum
On February 14, 1922 it was announced in The New York Times that the old church property, which had been on the market for $1 million, had been sold “as a site for a tall apartment house.” It signaled the rise of high neighboring buildings which would all but suffocate the architecture of Blessed Sacrament.

Today the scale of the Gothic church is diminished by the structures around it – however the beauty of its architecture and its exquisite interior remain unchanged.


  1. This Church is one of America's great Gothic Revival Churches. Its facade is remarkable and reflects the beauty of the great European Gothic Churches built centuries ago. Those who built it had a sense of God being a transcendent being, one worthy of praise and adoration. Also they had a sense that God deserved the very best as did the Citizens of the City of New York. Its 20th century rose window is lovely and after the Great Rose window of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, and after that located over the main entrance portal of The Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey is probably the nation's third largest rose window.
    It would be nice if someone who is an art historian would publish an article on this site giving us more detailed information about the edifice. Who was the architect, who designed and made the rose window etc. Probably the furnishings and the nave aisle windows are also worthy of note. Also If organ concerts are give in the church, possibly one could be posted on You Tube with with an accompanying videograph. This remarkable edifice should be better known and appreciated.

    Sincerely, Bernard A. Flanagan, Maplewood, New Jersey

    1. Thye architect, Gustave E. Steinbeck, is clearly named in the above. Thanks for your additional input, however.

  2. From: Anonymous Re:(May 20, 2013 at 7:23 P. M.)

    Dear Tom Miller: You are absolutely right. The Article concerning this remarkable church posted under the banner Daytonian In Manhattan is extremely informative and well written; it gives us the essential facts concerning its architectural style, and details of its ornamentation--there was an additional error in my post, I gave you an incorrect diameter measurement for the main rose window of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N. J.

    The Diameter given for each of the great rose windows in the United States is: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan (west) 40 feet; The Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N. J. (South) 34 feet; The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan (north and south) 33 feet; The Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark, N.J. (east and west)32 feet; The Church of the Blessed Sacrament, at 152, W. 71st Street in Manhattan (32) feet. Be well, and thanks again for your kind correction.

  3. www.newyorkwestsidelionsclub.orgDecember 15, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    What a pleasure to read about my Home Church Blessed sacrament 152 WEST 71 street. The Church of the Blessed Sacrament is beautiful Architecturally and a pleasure to attend Mass and serve at the Mass Lector /EM Our Pastor Monsignor Robert O,Connor is a dedicated and devoted Priest. Thank you for the information and beautiful photographs. Ingrid Leacock Show