Thu, 2 May 2013
If you had told 1840s religious leader William Muhlenberg that his innovative new Church of the Holy Communion, designed by renown architect Richard Upjohn, would become the glittering seat of drugs and debauchery 150 years later, he might have burned it down then and there.
But thankfully, this lovely building is still with us, proving to be one of the most flexible examples of building use in New York City history.
This unusual tale begins with the captivating relationship between Muhlenberg (the grandson of America's first Speaker of the House) and Anna Ayres, the First Sister in charge of the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion. The two of them helped create one of New York's great hospital centers. But was something else going on between them?
The Church of the Holy Communion survives the elevated railroad and the fashionable stores of Ladies Mile, and it weathers the various fortunes of the neighborhood. When it is finally sold and deconsecrated, it briefly houses an intellectual collective and a drug rehabilitation center before being bought by Canadian club impresario Peter Gatien, who turns it into an iconic and sacrilegious symbol of New York nightlife.
And today, it makes for a truly bizarre retail experience. Warning: This episode might give you whiplash.