I never miss the opportunity to gaze upward when entering a space in the hopes of discovering a chandelier (Check out our Sideways Story on the stunning chandeliers of the Side Streets). Peeking inside Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on a Sunday afternoon, it was the dazzling, yet unlit, fixture that captured my attention first. I could still decipher its glistening in the dim shafts of light filtering through the stunning figurative stained glass "Transfiguration of Christ" by L.C. Tiffany (containing over 17,561 individual pieces of glass). When I returned to the church with members of our team and Chrissi Nicolas, the office manager, turned on a few of the lights, we were able to see the spectral beams produced by the Czechoslovakian crystal. The entire sanctuary appeared to work in tandem, with the stained glass projecting light on the chandelier, which in turn reflected it onto the artwork surrounding the altar.For those who attend and work at Annunciation, it is considered a miraculous place. Chrissi told us that it was built in 1894 as the Fourth Presbyterian Church. The Greek Orthodox Church bought the location in 1953, after having met in various locations since its founding as the “Evangelismos” (“The Good News”) church in the late nineteenth century. At the beginning, the entire space was lit with a combination of electricity and gas lighting. They used an ingenious series of vents that allowed the gas to escape while turning on every light in the room with a single flint switch. “For its time, this building had amazing engineering,” Chrissi said. We ascended to the loft, where we received a view of the magnificent pipe organ. Annunciation's organ is one of the few tonally unaltered organs designed by E.M. Skinner that remain in existence today.We learned a lot about the traditions and practices of the Greek Orthodox Church through Chrissi. For example, one always knows the feast day is celebrated by the church by looking to the left of the Royal Doors of the altar to see what icon appears there. Chrissi also provided us with an interpretation of the surrounding religious art imagery. For example, in the painting of the Annunciation, the angel has his feet apart to show that he is running towards the Virgin Mary. In 1957, the congregation installed an intricate iconastasis screen of linden and lime tree wood designed and executed in Greece by noted Byzantine-style woodcarver Theophanis Nomikos, with inset icons hand-painted by New York iconographer Konstantinos Youssis of the Bronx.There are many coincidences contained within the church’s history. For example, the Greek Orthodox congregation that would become Annunciation was founded in 1892, the same year the church at 91st Street was starting to be built. Also, the congregation moved into the building on March 25th, the day of the Annunciation of Christ, hence the name. Possibly the most mysterious fact about the church, however, is that one of the priests is said to have been visited by St. Xenia, a little-known saint. After his vision, the priest was hesitant to tell anyone, since it was the twentieth century, and he was afraid that no one would believe him. But he did some research, and discovered that St. Xenia did, in fact, exist. In his vision, she asked him to paint her icon. He did, and today the icon he painted holds a special position in the sanctuary and in the history of the parish
In the early twentieth century, the Upper West Side was home to a rapidly expanding Catholic population, thanks to the new IRT subway. The Archbishop of New York at the time, John Cardinal Farley, established St. Gregory the Great in 1906 in order to provide for the growing Catholic community. Curiously, the building in which the congregation currently resides was meant to be a temporary church until a new one could be erected. The construction never happened, and St. Gregory the Great Church has resided in the same space now for over one hundred years.
When I sat down in the minister's office at West Park Presbyterian Church, the first thing I asked was his name. He responded, "I am going to give you the whole thing, and you decide how much you would like to include." It is a name to be proud of - Reverend Doctor Robert Brashear. Though originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Robert has been at the church since 1995. He first came to New York for an internship from 1982-83, and enjoyed his time in the city so much that he leapt at the opportunity to return when it was presented to him years later.The church has a fascinating history. It was originally formed under the name "North Presbyterian Church" on Bleecker Street in 1829 in response to the growing population of people moving north to escape the Yellow Fever. The congregation soon split and one group became the West Presbyterian Church, moving to a building on Carmine Street. In the meantime, the Park Presbyterian Church was formed on 84th Street thanks to the efforts of A. Phelps Atterbury in 1887. In 1890, Park Presbyterian moved into the red sandstone structure on 86th Street and the two congregations, West and Park, merged in 1911. The church received landmark status in 2000.West Park Presbyterian has always been at the forefront of a lot of political and social issues. In 1978, the church was one of the first to jump into the LGBT movement - the Reverend believes that the shift towards the religious embrace of homosexuality actually started in this church. He explained that the church was the first to perform gay marriages and "acknowledge them as just that." In terms of other social movements, the Reverend also declared that Senior Housing had its birth on 86th Street. Additionally, during Occupy Wall Street when the people were pushed out of Zuccotti Park, activists were invited to take up housing in the church. Some remained for close to a year.Robert is proud that although the church's membership only consists of a few dozen families, they are continuously written up and receive excellent reviews for the cultural events that they hold. According to the Reverend, the tightly knit community at West Park Presbyterian will always be on the "cutting edge" - where things happen.
I often wish that I could somehow capture sounds and smells on Manhattan Sideways. I especially felt that way at the Church of the Holy Trinity, where Andrew, the director of music, was practicing on the large Letourneau organ, which replaced the church’s old organ in the mid-1990s. The booming, melodious tune echoed throughout the halls of the enormous ceiling as Colleen Glazer, the Program Director and Director of Religious Education, led us through the church.The Holy Trinity congregation began in what is called the “lower church” downstairs in 1898 while the upper church was being built. The grand structure took fourteen years to make and was opened in 1912. The sand- and terracotta-colored walls are made of Guastavino tiles, a material that was invented by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino in 1885. It ensures that vaulted ceilings, such as those of Holy Trinity, remain strong and self-supporting. The tiles are especially prevalent in Beaux Arts structures.Over a century after the church’s inception, the congregation is going strong. Colleen was keen to tell us that there are some 1400 parishioners. She went on to say that she has witnessed the demographics of the neighborhood shifting, bringing in many more young families. The church is also proud of its diversity: the congregation is home to people of all races, nationalities, and ages, drawn together by their faith.
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."