Arriving at the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava, I was greeted by the Very Reverend Djokan Majstorovic, a native Serbian who has served as cathedral dean for the past seventeen years. The Reverend welcomed me into his office and explained that, like many of Manhattan’s churches, the Cathedral of St. Sava has a long, rich history. Originally known as Trinity Chapel, an offshoot of Trinity Church on Wall Street, it was built in 1855 as a place of worship for “uptown” Episcopalians. A number of prominent New Yorkers attended Trinity Chapel in the late 19th century, and I was excited to learn that Edith Wharton got married there in 1885. And not only that—Trinity Chapel makes an appearance in The Age of Innocence, one of her most famous novels.
By the early 20th century, 25th Street had become a bustling commercial area, and many of the church’s parishioners moved away. In 1943, the Serbian community purchased Trinity Chapel and renamed it for St. Sava, the first Serbian archbishop. Reverend Djokan told me that over the past seventy years, the cathedral has grown into an educational and cultural center that hosts lectures, concerts, and youth activities. Worshipers come from Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn, and Queens to participate in religious services, and on holidays, as many as 1,000 people gather at St. Sava.
The cathedral has been designated a national landmark building, and when I walked inside, I could see why. Most of the original stained glass windows are still intact, as are the church’s distinctive patterned tiles. Stunning murals from the 1920s decorate the walls alongside the pews, and the gorgeous rose window has been restored with deep, vivid colors. Some traces of the cathedral’s Episcopalian past are still visible - the intricate wooden pulpit, for example. The beautiful hand-carved iconostasis, painted by a famous Russian iconographer and transported all the way from Yugoslavia, separates the sanctuary from the rest of the church. The windows facing 26th Street, which were destroyed by an explosion in the 1970s, have been replaced with Byzantine-style stained glass.
But the beautiful history of this building comes with a price. The Reverend told us that it is extremely expensive to maintain, and the church recently spent fifteen years and four million dollars to restore the crumbling slate roof. “Between the community and some grants,” the Reverend told us, “we managed to raise all the money, and today we don’t have any debt.” But now the church hall, which was built in 1868 and houses feasts and community events, is also in need of restoration.
There is a statue of Nikola Tesla outside the church, and I was surprised to learn that he was buried by a priest from St. Sava. Though he never got to see the cathedral itself—it was purchased just months after his death—he was an active member in the New York Serbian Orthodox community. Michael Pupin, a Pulitzer-prize winning physicist, and St. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, an important writer and orator, were also influential early members of St. Sava.
On May 1, 2016, the church sadly caught fire and burned to the ground. Happily, no parishioners were inside, but the whole city grieves to have lost such a beautiful and historic structure.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill, ” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to. ” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.
Completed in 1854, and housing a congregation that dates back to the 1600s, Marble Collegiate Church is one of the most prominent and stunning churches in New York. Its exterior stands out among the glimmering towers of Fifth Avenue – a breathtaking reminder of a smaller-scale New York of the nineteenth century. Several of us had the privilege of receiving a tour of Marble's magnificent space. Ashley Johnson, Marketing and Communications Manager, and our tour guide for the day, impressed us with her vast knowledge of the historic landmark. Pausing first at the exterior, Ashley explained the imposing iron fence surrounding the building – “It was originally to keep out cows, ” she laughed. “Our nearest neighbor was a dairy farmer. Back in the 1800s, this was considered the sticks! You would’ve taken a carriage up Fifth Avenue (then a dirt path) to get here. ” The blue and yellow ribbons hanging on the fence, she went on to say, are tributes to the soldiers and civilians injured or killed in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moving to the interior, we were struck by the lavishness of the sanctuary. One Manhattan Sideways team member exclaimed: “I’ve never seen a church with wallpaper before! ” Ashley clarified, “It’s actually not wallpaper – it’s stencil. ” The walls are painted a lush red, decorated with gold stencils of the fleur-de-lis. Complementing the deep color of the walls is the matching red upholstery covering the pews. After we had stared in awe for a considerable period of time, Ashley said: “The way you see this space now is how you would have seen it in 1891. This is High Victorian – not how it was originally conceived. ” The church’s sanctuary, then, is a living record of the aesthetic changes to Marble Church. “When it was originally built, it was very stark – true to its Calvinistic roots. ” There was clear glass in the windows at that time, she told us, and the interior was white and dominated by a central pulpit on the chancel. These features were later upgraded when Dr. David James Burrell became the senior minister of the church in the late 1800s. He removed the pulpit, “wanting to be closer to his congregation, ” and oversaw extensive renovations of the sanctuary, including replacing the clear glass windows with stained glass, which can still be seen in the front hall narthex of the church. In 1900 and 1901, the church began what was to become a century-long project of replacing all the plain stained glass windows with the multi-colored pictorial scenes you can view today. The first two pictorial stained glass windows, installed at the turn of the nineteenth century, were fabricated by the world-renowned Tiffany Studios, headed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Depicting Biblical stories, the church’s oldest windows are breathtakingly detailed, featuring hand-painted, colorful glass of diverse textures and thicknesses. It is certainly easy to get lost in their storytelling. After the windows were installed, there was a long hiatus before the next window was commissioned. Ashley suggested a number of reasons for the wait: the Great Depression, WWII, and stained glass falling out of vogue. “The church had all of these Victorian style stained glass windows without pictures, and then there were these two Tiffany windows sitting right in the middle; it was a beautiful oddity. ” In 1998, thanks to the generosity of church patrons Robert and Maria Ryneveld, Marble Collegiate Church set out to complete the vision that had begun 98 years earlier. As other patrons stepped forward, Marble began commissioning new windows, designed by talented artisans and created by some of the oldest, great stained glass fabricators in America: Rambusch, Lamb and Willet-Hauser. Today, the sanctuary window project is complete and houses 10 stunning stained glass windows, one after another. Standing close to many of them, we were able to observe each composition in dizzying detail. Continuing on our walk through the church, Ashley showed us the smaller, though no less beautiful, spaces Marble Church houses. Behind the sanctuary the children’s chapel is nestled. Decorated with beautiful frescos of scenery, it is a place for children and adults to find quiet. “It would be great for people to know about these spaces, ” Ashley pointed out, adding that the children’s chapel is also ideal for intimate weddings and other ceremonies. Moving on, we visited a smaller prayer chapel, as well as a parlor decorated with photos of Marble Collegiate Church at its various states of construction and renovation. Then we were led downstairs, to a large labyrinth in the basement. “This is one of the only inlaid labyrinths in the city, ” Ashley informed us. “It’s open to the public on Wednesday evenings and the first Sunday of the month. It’s a very relaxing place, ” she said. “Many people confuse this with a maze, but it's not – it’s a labyrinth, so there’s no way to get lost. ” As we were contemplating the winding pathways, the staff at Marble was preparing for one of their frequent walking events, lining the labyrinth with tea lights. We all agreed that it is rare for one to be able to have this kind of meditative experience in Manhattan. After visiting the basement chapel – a small, contemporary room outfitted with hardwood – we moved into the peaceful columbarium. “It’s very unusual to find places to put loved ones to rest in New York, ” Ashley mentioned. A somber note to end on, but we certainly appreciated the time spent inside Marble Collegiate Church.
With all the centers we have discovered dedicated to children, pets, students, and shoppers, it was refreshing and intriguing to come upon Senior Planet – “the country’s first technology themed center for over-60s. ” The center offers courses, skill-shares, workshops, special events and lecture series that help senior citizens deal with the ever-changing technological world. 22 computers, 3 Skype stations, a gaming area, a projector, mobile devices and a lounge create a space that one might think is fit for a youngster, but is, in fact, the perfect space for the senior folks. “Aging with attitude” is their motto. Computer basics, advanced computing, introduction to the iPad, digital photography, social networking and more are all taught in a welcoming environment. What a brilliant concept!
A favorite of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Sarah Jessica Parker, New York Vintage is what co-founder Shannon Hoey describes as “a leader in fashion. ” Shannon has spent the past twenty-three years amassing an extensive collection of vintage clothing, which includes a downstairs retail space open to the public and an upstairs industry archive open by appointment only. Over the years, Shannon has dressed red carpet actresses and world-famous singers, and has worked closely with costume designers on a range of films and TV series, including Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama made a historic appearance in a New York Vintage Norman Norell dress, and since then, Shannon has dressed her on many occasions. When I first visited New York Vintage, I could not believe my eyes. The window display was stunning, as was the old-fashioned décor, complete with richly upholstered chairs, gilded mirrors, and ornate chandeliers. I was captivated by the wall of Vogue photographs, each one featuring a piece from Shannon’s collection, and of course, by the true treasure of New York Vintage: high-heeled shoes, flamboyant hats, and endless racks of beautiful dresses from designers around the world. Upstairs, the industry archive upstairs was filled with even more outrageous items, from a dress owned by Ulysses Grant’s wife to intricate McQueen headpieces. “Every piece here has historical significance, ” Shannon told me. “We’re an institution, a working museum archive. ” In fact, she added, many of the items at New York Vintage have been purchased from museums, and each piece is meticulously documented and entered into a database. Today, Shannon is one of New York’s foremost experts on fashion as an art form, so I was surprised to learn that she never set out to work with vintage clothing. “Fashion discovered me, ” she told me, explaining how her husband’s career in antiques first sparked her interest in vintage. It quickly became her passion, and within a few years, she and her husband co-founded New York Vintage. “He handles the business side of things, and I’m the creative director, ” Shannon explained. “So I get to do the fun part. ”But the vintage business can be difficult, too, and it took years of hard work for Shannon to build her collection. “The kind of fashion we seek is not easily found, ” she said. “It takes patience and capital, and you need to know what you’re looking for. ” In the early days, Shannon spent a lot of time searching for new pieces in Europe, but nowadays, with three young daughters, she travels much less. When I asked about her children, she said with a smile, “They spend a lot of time here with me, and they love playing dress-up. ”Shannon, unsurprisingly, also loves dressing up, and she told me that she has a lot of opportunities to wear items from her collection. “Halloween is my favorite holiday, ” she explained, “And last year I went to Allison Sarofim’s Italian futurism-themed party in a pink Mohawk and mod clothing. ” But Shannon’s favorite era is the 1920s. “I’m obsessed with all of it, ” she said. “The mindset, the freedom, the departure from women being bound and put in corsets. ”Still marveling over Shannon’s list of celebrity clients, which includes Julia Roberts and Beyonce, I asked if she ever gets starstruck. When celebrities first started flocking to the store, she told me, it was totally overwhelming, “like running from a tidal wave. ” But since then, the only time she has really been starstruck was her visit to the White House with the First Lady. “Some celebrities still catch me off-guard, ” she said, “Like the time Nicole Kidman showed up unannounced. But otherwise, I’m used to it. ”When I asked Shannon about the future of New York Vintage, she told me that they are hoping to expand overseas. “We want to open our doors to global clients, ” she told me, “maybe by opening an outpost in Europe. ” But until then, she told me, she will continue to do what she loves here in New York, working with designers, inspiring them and feeling inspired. For Shannon, the truly fulfilling part of her job is working with designers and models, creating with them and helping to communicate their vision. “I’m always inspired, ” she said with a smile. “I have the best job in the world. ”