|The peaked roof of the 1830's church structure can still be seen. photo by Ajay Suresh|
In the first years of the 1830's a church was built for the Third Universalist Society on leased ground at Nos. 23-25 Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. The building would see a rather rapid turnover of congregations in the next two decades. In 1839 it was acquired by the Third Associated Presbyterian Church which sold it four years later to St. Jude's Episcopal Free Church. The trustees remodeled the church and it was possibly at this time that it attained its Gothic Revival arched windows. The Greek Revival entrance with its classical, triangular pediment was left intact.
|Decades later, after having been converted for business, the ecclesiastical personality of the structure remained. Note the Greek Revival doorway, original to the building. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
Controversy soon swirled around the church, which embraced the "new school" teachings of the English churchman Dr. Edward Bouverier Pusey. A sermon in May 1843 caused him to be banned from preaching for two years. St. Luke's Episcopal took up a collection (its second one) for his benefit in its new church building on December 3 that year. The editors of the New York Herald decried it as "enterprise."
To-day a strong effort will be made to shake the devil from his vantage-ground...St. Jude's Episcopal Free Church offers to receive Episcopalians and others for anything or nothing, and the inducement offered is not from the Bible or from Dean's theology, but the word is Enterprise! Not the pure and orthodox religion of the protestant church, but the individual enterprise of a new school enthusiast, whose only aim is, pence and Dr. Pusey.
Only ten years after making the significant changes to the building, St. Luke's Episcopal sold it to the Union Reformed Church. The Dutch Reformed congregation, which would remain for more than half a century, enjoyed quiet success.
The minutes of May 1872 recorded "While there has been no great revival, there has been a high degree of spiritual life; the membership have been earned in pray and labor. As many as forty-three have been added to the Church, on confession of faith, the past year."
Affluent churches closed their doors during the summer months as their congregants left the city for country homes and other resorts. It was an opportune time for repairing and redecorating their buildings. On September 16, 1872 The New York Times entitled an article "Reopening of the Union Reformed Church, Sixth-Avenue" and reported "This comfortable place of worship was reopened for service yesterday, having been thoroughly repaired and beautifully decorated and upholstered, the walls and ceilings handsomely frescoed, and the stained-glass windows renovated. The members of the congregation having returned from the country and sea-side, were present in their accustomed places."
By the third quarter of the 19th century the neighborhood around the church had changed. Immigrant families were filling tenement buildings and former private homes. The immediate area around Minetta Lane, across Sixth Avenue, had become the center of the Black community, earning it the nickname Little Africa. Its impoverished residents lived in decrepit homes described by reformer Jacob Riis as "vile rookeries."
That the trustees were considering moving was evidenced on January 31, 1884 when the New Amsterdam Gazette pointed out that the leasehold on the property would expire in six years, "and can now be sold for some $5,000." It would have been a nice windfall for the congregation, about $134,000 today, towards erecting a new building. The article added "The present tendency of Sixth Avenue certainly renders new arrangements, in regard to a church-building on that Avenue a delicate question."
On October 20 the following year, during the fall meeting of the New York Classis, the Rev. Dr. Fairchild reported that a move was "a necessity." According to the New Amsterdam Gazette he complained that the church was "situated in the vicinity of countless disreputable resorts, and that husbands and fathers would not have their wives and daughters pass them on their way to church."
The editor of that newspaper found the pastor's remarks misguided. "Such neighborhoods as these need churches and schools far greater than others of more refinement." It added, "Those who know our city well will agree with us, that to find a street in New York completely free from vice must be regarded as an impossibility." The writer flatly denounced his plan as "absurd."
Apparently the Reformed Classis and Synod agreed, for the United Reformed Church remained in the Sixth Avenue building until 1893. That year the trustees sold it to the J. & R. Ecclesiastical Art firm, which renovated it for its studio and factory.
Established by brothers Joseph and Richard Lamb in 1857, by now it was run by Joseph's three sons, Richard, Charles Rollinson, and Frederick Stymetz Lamb. Charles R. Lamb doubled as an architect, chiefly designing churches. In a symbiotic relationship, his family's firm routinely collaborated in creating the stained glass and interiors.
|The Church, April 1898 (copyright expired)|
|This painted and stained glass window, "Memory," was the work of Ella C. Lamb. image via arcadiasystems.org|
|The renovated Church of St. Edward the Martyr. New-York Tribune, December 14, 1903 (copyright expired)|
Richard Lamb died on March 24, 1909 at the age of 74. On the day after his funeral a memorial service was held in the Sixth Avenue studio for the employees and business associates. The addresses given by his brothers seem a bit out of context for the occasion. Frederick spoke on "Relations of the Employees to the firm," and Charles on the "History of the House."
|Taken in 1932, this photograph shows the sharp curve of the Sixth Avenue Elevated to the left. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
|As renovations continue, the facade has been removed and the interiors gutted. The peaked roof was retained. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
|The new facade slopes backward to meet the original 1830's roofline. Playing here at the time of this photo was The Great Waltz with Luise Rainer, and Flirting with Fate, starring Joe E. Brown. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
|When the Waverly closed in 2001 the ground level had been tiled over and the upper portion painted blue. photo by Ross Melnick|
|photo by Bruce C.|