The Synod of Bishops Russian Church is the base for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in New York City. ROCOR, which was formed in response to the policies of the Bolsheviks in the early twentieth century, was a separate religious entity from the Russian Orthodox Church for ninety years. In 2007, however, the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate was signed, making ROCOR a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The administrative building on 93rd Street contains two churches within its structure: The Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady of the Sign and St. Sergius Church. The building was presented to ROCOR in the mid-twentieth century by Serge Semenenko, a Russian banker. The mansion was built by the architect William A. Delano in the Georgian-Federal style in 1918.
My visit to the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel came only a year after it merged with the Church of St. Thomas More in 2015. Though the two buildings remain open, the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel is considered the parish church. The reasons for the merger were spiritual, financial, and community-based. It is the hope of the combined parishes that they continue to grow stronger under one pastor. As for the history of the Our Lady of Good Counsel, the church had its beginnings in 1886 and moved into its current home in 1892. Though its origins were Irish and German, the Roman Catholic Church now embraces a diverse community and offers Spanish masses every week. Louisa, a member of the staff, led me into the beautifully ornate sanctuary. The altar was decorated with cherry blossoms for springtime, an attractive addition to the stained glass and marble. The vast, two-tiered space is blindingly colorful and features an enormous working organ. Music, Louisa informed me, plays a central role in the congregation. Louisa spoke to me about an event called Catholic Underground that happens on the first Saturday of every month from September through May. Hundreds of people, often young people in their teens or twenties, fill the sanctuary for an hour of “Eucharistic adoration. ” After the ceremony, everyone goes downstairs to the lower church where singers, bands, or individual musicians play. The musical groups come from around the world. As Louisa explained, the event began as a way of “bringing culture to the people. ” This did not originate in the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, but has taken place there since the early 2000s. Though everyone is invited to attend, Catholic Underground’s primary goal is to connect with young people in the community... and it appears to be working nicely.
The Church of Saint Thomas More has only been known by that name since 1950. However, the church that it resides in is much older. The religious structure on 89th Street was built in 1870 using sandstone from Nova Scotia. It was inhabited by the Episcopalians and a Dutch Reformed congregation before it became a Roman Catholic church and was rededicated to Saint Thomas More. In the summer of 2015, the parish merged with Our Lady of Good Counsel on 90th Street.
The story of the Church of the Heavenly Rest begins in 1865 when Dr. Robert Shaw Howland led the first services on 42nd Street. In 1868, the congregation was officially named the Church of the Heavenly Rest and construction began on a new church on Fifth Avenue near Grand Central Station. By the early twentieth century, the area had grown into a bustling business district and the congregation started looking to make the move to a more residential neighborhood where they would not have to compete with as many midtown places of worship. In 1924, Andrew Carnegie’s widow sold the church a plot of land across the street from her new home (now the Cooper Hewitt Museum). This is where Heavenly Rest built its now-landmarked sanctuary. I learned from Marion Morey, a parishioner who volunteers to greet visitors to the Episcopalian church (“We’re like the Catholics, but different, ” Marion tells each person who enters), that it is thanks to Mrs. Carnegie that the landmarked building looks the way it does. “She didn’t want the church to build a steeple, because it would cast a shadow on her lawn, ” she said with an amused smirk. In addition to the lack of steeple, the church is unique in that it embraced the Art Deco style that dominated skyscrapers at the time it was built. Marion pointed out that the sanctuary uses both Gothic and Art Deco designs in a seamless blend of aesthetics. She is especially fond of the cross behind the altar, which appears flush with the background at the bottom, but rises up and out towards the viewer near the top. “It means a lot to me, ” she said, elaborating on the themes of resurrection and rebirth that the church embraces. Marion also spoke to me about the fleur de lis designs in the chapel and the International School that is part of the church (“It’s a very good school, ” she commented, approvingly). I found it interesting to learn that the church serves as a women’s shelter, one of the few in the city. Ten women are invited to sleep in the sanctuary every Monday through Wednesday, with volunteer parishioners looking after them. When I visited in the spring of 2016, Marion was excited to announce that the church was undergoing some construction, adding a kitchen, elevator, and new bathrooms in the coming months. “We are building our own congregational space, ” she explained. Marion went on to say that there would soon be meeting rooms: before the construction project, the only place for church officials to meet has been the sanctuary, often in the choir stalls. Despite the changes and expansions that the church will undergo, Marion stressed that they will continue “to run like a very humble church. ” It was heart-warming to speak to someone who obviously had so much love for this house of worship. She told me in a low voice, “In the middle of the night, it’s extraordinary. It’s filled with so much spirit. ”
Gregory Fryer, the pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, is thankful for his church for many reasons. First of all, it was formed in the winter of 1863, right in the middle of the Civil War. Gettysburg was only a few months away, but Gregory sees the founding of Immanuel as proof that it was still "a holy time. " "It was the creation of a new church, right in the middle of wartime, " he said, with the soft, deliberate tone of a man who has spoken many sermons. The congregation met in various places on the Upper East Side, including what is now St. Elizabeth of Hungary, for the first two decades before building the 88th Street church. Gregory is grateful that that church, dedicated in 1886, was built with great care by the local German immigrants. The same men who worked in Rupert's brewery, ran the neighborhood bakeries, and lived in the tenement houses painstakingly built this beautiful church on 88th and Lex. "I'm honored every time I set foot in it, " Gregory asserted. Many of the immigrants were woodworkers, so the church stands out from its neighbors in that it is filled with wooden structures and hand-carved decorations from the Black Forest in Germany. The bells are also imported from Germany and were gifts from Empress Victoria in the late 1800s. They are named "Glaube, " "Hoffnung, " and "Liebe" which mean "faith, " "hope, " and "charity. " The bells are rung by hand at the start of each service and during the consecration – a practice that is quite fun for those who participate, judging by the twinkle in the pastor’s eye as he mentioned, “We enjoy pulling on the rope. ”"My call to be pastor here reflects the change of the neighborhood, " Gregory stated. He is the first pastor who does not speak German. "I am distinguished by a deficiency, " he said. The church stopped offering German services in the 1970's, resulting in some German-speakers moving to Zion St. Mark. Some of the older congregants, who have been coming to the church for over fifty years, still speak the language, but Gregory jokingly assured me that they "forgive" him for not knowing it. The older congregants are referred to as "the power table, " since they always sit together at coffee hour. Gregory calls them the "guardians of the wisdom of the neighborhood. " They are part of what Gregory describes as "a very diverse congregation. "Immanuel fills a very important niche in New York: As of 2016, it is the only church in Manhattan that is part of the North American Lutheran Church. They were originally part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the more liberal group, but decided to become more moderate in order to give other Lutherans a place to worship in the city. After a year of debating, they applied to the NALC and were accepted in record time. When I visited in 2016, the church had just finished renovating its slate roof and steeple. "It took every nickel in sight to do it, but we did it right, " Gregory said proudly. The church could have used a cheaper material to fix their roof, but the congregation felt strongly that the church should honor the work that the original builders did by using the same materials. The process was long and arduous. Gregory told me how every detail was discussed at length and showed me one of the original nails, which became a centerpiece of a discussion about what hardware to use. Every congregant did his or her part. For example, Gregory took the bucket that he used to catch water from a leak in the roof and invited the children to a "noisy collection, " where they dropped coins into the bucket. Before commencing the work, Immanuel had the building appraised by a structural engineer, who declared it "solid as a rock, " suggesting that the congregation could hang a 747 jet from the rafters. A few months after the project was completed, the church was awarded the “Carnegie Hill Neighbors Enrichment Award” in recognition of the skillful renovation. An added bonus of the new roof is that the church is now insulated. Ever since a nearby department store's demolition project destroyed the church's plaster roof, it has gone without insulation. The church used the settlement money from the department store to buy the parsonage apartment where Gregory and his wife raised their family. The church never replaced the plaster because they realized that the church was more beautiful with the exquisite craftsmanship of the roof beams exposed – the rafters were never meant to be seen, but the German woodworkers put great care and skill into them anyway. Not to mention, the acoustics were greatly improved.
St. Joseph’s was founded in 1873, when the German-speaking locals who represented a large portion of the inhabitants of Yorkville asked the Jesuits of St. Laurence O'Toole Church on 84th Street and Park Avenue (now St. Ignatius Loyola) to help them find a German-speaking priest. The Jesuits sent Father Joseph Durthaller, who became the first pastor of St. Joseph's. In 1880, St. Joseph's School was founded, and in 1894 the current church was built in the Romanesque Revival style to replace the original small Gothic structure that had been dedicated in 1874. In continuation of its German heritage, St. Joseph’s offers a German Mass on the first Sunday of every month, which is said by Father Boniface Ramsey, the pastor. Even though, like many churches in Manhattan, participation has dwindled over the past forty years, St. Joseph's still has an active community with over 750 congregants and about 350 children in the school. There is no longer a large German population, but St. Joseph's is now home to the New York Hungarian Catholic community, which has a Mass every Sunday afternoon that is conducted entirely in Hungarian. The Hungarian community came from St. Stephen of Hungary Church on 82nd Street, which was recently closed. Father Boniface himself attended St. Joseph’s School for a short time, but he never imagined that he would end up as the pastor. He calls himself an "Upper East Sider, " born and bred. Though his mother was German, she did not teach him her native tongue, since he was born in 1945, when the political climate caused German speakers to be unpopular. Instead, he studied the language in college. The church itself is medium size and beautifully proportioned, with elegant confession booths, stained glass windows, and colorful murals on the ceilings. At the front of the main aisle, just before the sanctuary, there is a mosaic worked into the floor. It is the personal crest of Pope Benedict XVI, who visited St. Joseph's on April 18, 2008. Despite the attractiveness of other features, my eye was drawn to the enormous, historic organ that dates back to 1895 and "hasn't been fooled with, " in Father Boniface's words. He told me that music is very important to St. Joseph's and that Alistair Reid, the church's organist, is "superb. " In addition to the organ, St. Joseph’s also has a piano and one of very few harpsichords to be found in a church. Leading me up into the choir loft, Fr. Boniface pointed out that the organ is particularly large in comparison to the size of the church. He believes that this is because the Germans who founded the church and installed the organ were probably hearty singers. He mentioned that a big choir is not needed to fill the space. "The acoustics are famous, " he said, and vocally demonstrated the four to five second reverberation. Father Boniface took me on a quick visit to the school next door, a building dating to 1926. It warmed my heart to hear the children playing in the street yell "Hi Father! " and to see him smile and wave at them. "I usually create a ruckus, " he said with a grin.
The Suburban Hook & Ladder Company No. 13 was formed in 1865, the same year that the cities of New York and Brooklyn were combined and the “Metropolitan District” fire department was officially created. With the creation of the department, firefighting became a profession, and firehouses were no longer filled solely with volunteers. The members of Hook & Ladder Company 13 are remembered for having helped during the deadly explosion on Park Place in 1891. It was referred to by the news as “one of the worst disasters that ever happened in this city. ” The firemen of Company 13 arrived on the scene on the third day to help reinvigorate the search for bodies. They also dealt with countless fires in the tenement houses of Yorkville, most notably a house fire at 60 East 87th Street filled with residents. The stories of the heroic deeds of the these firefighters could fill a book. In the twentieth century, the Company moved to 85th Street and the little brick house stood empty. In 1962, however, Andy Warhol rented the second floor to use as his very first New York studio.
After only spending a few minutes walking through Doyle's display room, I realized that Louis Webre, the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Media at the prestigious auction house, was correct - "Auction houses are one of the best places to go for free, cultural events in the city. " Though the room was filled with an exhibition on Impressionist and Modern Art when I visited, Louis told us that the shows change almost on a weekly basis. Once this particular show ended and the art auctioned, it would be followed by Post-War & Contemporary Art. "Every week it's something new, " Louis stated. William Doyle, who established the company in 1962, has continued his legacy through his wife Kathleen, the current Chairman and CEO, and his daughter, who also plays a substantial role in the company. Doyle holds about forty auctions a year, making it one of the premier auction houses in the world. "Our audience is very global, especially for jewelry sales, " Louis informed me. He added that part of the job of an auction house is to identify the new affluent populations of the world and to find out what international billionaires are buying. He then clarified this by saying "Almost all of what we sell, however, is from collections and estates within the US. "The auction house is a family company not only in its continued connection to the Doyles, but also because it is now working with clients who are third generation. Doyle employees have seen children and grandchildren of early customers come through their doors over and over again. Louis, who has been working for Doyle since 1987, has witnessed situations where parents have passed away and their children have offered the resulting estate, originally purchased from Doyle, back to Doyle. I asked Louis about the most impressive piece that he has seen auctioned over the years, and without hesitating he replied, "The pair of pearls. " He then shared the fascinating story with me. Doyle's appraisers have been working with the Antiques Roadshow since the late 1990s. During one episode of the show, Kevin, an appraiser, met with a woman who had brought in some of her grandmother's jewelry. She mentioned that she had one of the older woman's brooches with a pair of pearls, but that the piece had already been appraised at $1, 500-2, 500. After spending some time with this woman, Kevin's interest was piqued and he asked if she would mind sending the pearls to him. Upon receiving them, he immediately shipped them to Switzerland, the only place in the world that grades pearls. "They sent back a letter unlike any we had ever seen before, " Louis continued. The letter revealed the pearls to be a "treasure of nature" as it is extremely unlikely for two oysters to produce such large, identical pearls. They then traced the pearls' story and discovered that they once belonged to Empress Eugenie of France, but that France sold all the crown jewels in the 1870s. One of the largest buyers was Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany and Co. This explained how the jewels got to America, eventually ending up in someone's grandmother's safety deposit box. When the pearls were sold, they broke the existing record sale for a pair of pearls by $900, 000. The heart-warming ending to the story is that when the woman found out what the pearls sold for, she announced that she would use the money to purchase a new canine van for her animal rescue service. After sharing this extraordinary story, Louis enthusiastically continued his walk through the gallery while pointing out some of his favorite pieces of art. There were quite a few pieces from the painter Paul Cadmus, but a favorite was an early self-portrait from when he was living in Mallorca with his partner between the wars. The room also held a collection of Paul Kleinschmidt's paintings, including a portrait of the collector who originally owned them. After showing me a painting of a crowded Coney Island beach scene done by Reginald Marsh, Louis said, "It's unbelievable to me how few New Yorkers take advantage of this. " He gestured to the rest of the room. "It really is the greatest free show in town. "
In 1882, German Jews founded a synagogue and named it Temple Gates of Hope. Two years later, they merged with the Eighty-Sixth Street Temple to become Congregation Agudat Yesharim, a title which is still used as their Hebrew name today. Mergers with other synagogues followed, and in 1923, they ultimately became the Park Avenue Synagogue. In 1927, the congregation moved to its current location. Since the early twentieth century, Park Avenue Synagogue has changed and grown with the neighborhood, including building a new school in 1980. Today, the Park Avenue Synagogue boasts about 1, 500 families, making it one of the leading Conservative congregations in the country.