Today we celebrate the glorious structure on the corner of Broadway and East 10th Street: Grace Church in New York. On this day in 1966, Grace Church in New York and its rectory were designated New York City Landmarks. In 1974, the entire complex was listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places.
Grace Church is one of the reasons our neighborhood remains one of the most beautiful places in New York. In 1846 the elders of the church made a very bold move by naming James Renwick Jr. as the architect of the new building for a parish which served the most fashionable of New Yorkers. Several very established architects vied for the job, however Renwick, then only 24 years old, submitted a design that the building committee and the rector of the church, Reverend Thomas House Taylor, agreed was appropriate for the fashionable congregation. Rev. Taylor had just returned from a year-long trip to Europe, presumably with the sole objective of looking at researching church structures. He most certainly came back with a strong appreciation for the many examples of Gothic architecture he found there. Having communicated this desire to the group of men submitting proposals, Renwick was the one who listened most carefully to the wishes of the client and submitted a plan for a church in the Gothic Revival Style. In fact, Grace Church introduced the style to New York City.
The Grace Church vestry was full of enthusiasm but short on funds at the time. The steeple that you see now was not originally made of marble but of wood. It was rebuilt in marble in 1883. The windows were originally made of lightly tinted plain glass, not of the glorious stained glass that remains there today.
In 1879 a wealthy parishioner by the name of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe donated the funds for the small chapel that is situated at the southwest corner of the church. She also donated the great East Window replacing the modest original plain glass. Her act of generosity inspired others to follow suit and by 1889, 36 of the 46 stained glass windows had been donated by fellow parishioners.
In 1894, the Vestry decided to expand the popularity of the church by founding a boy’s choir. In doing so, a school for boys became a necessity in order to educate those who were conscripted to the choir. In 1902, a chorister’s house was constructed at the site of 88 Fourth Avenue. The church would eventually own numbers 80-102 Fourth Avenue in order to house the ever-expanding Choir School and its various ministries. The music program at the church thrives today. It is now comprised of both a boy’s and a girl’s choir and most of the choristers are drawn from Grace Church School.
Grace Church School became its own legal entity in 2006. Under the stewardship of headmaster George P. Davison, the school operates and owns the buildings from 86-94 Fourth Avenue, while the church enjoys a very active community of devoted parishioners who care deeply for the structure of the church and its unique history in the neighborhood.
You can find further information on this and other Village, East Village, and NoHo designated landmarks and historic districts on GVSHP’s Resources webpage.