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Trinity Church

View from the north View from the northeast

Trinity Church viewed from the northeast

By Carter B. Horsley

The very tall Gothic Revival, brownstone spire of Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Street is one of New York's greatest landmarks for its architecture, its history and its inseparable associations with the international images of Wall Street as the financial center of the world.

Its isolated splendor at the foot of Wall Street is greatly enhanced by its very large, surrounding cemetery that gives it extraordinary "light and air." Although the former Irving Trust Building at One Wall Street surpassed the church in height, it did not overwhelm it and the church's open space is one of the most impressive in New York especially because the north and south sides have spectacular Gothic Revival-style, limestone-clad buildings with wonderful detailing that significantly augment the elegance of this major urban place.

View from the southeast

View from the southeast

When the present church was consecrated on Ascension Day, May 1, 1845, its neo-Gothic spire, topped by a gilded cross, dominated the Lower Manhattan skyline. It was designed by Richard Upjohn in Gothic Revival style.

The church had been founded by a charter of King William III of England in 1687 with an annual rent of one peppercorn and its parish has been a significant force in the religious and architectural history of the city as it aided more than 1,700 churches, schools, hospitals and other institutions and will owns a very impressive real estate portfolio.

It had the city's first ministry for African-Americans, starting in 1705, the same year that Queen Anne granted the church more land that increased its holdings to about 215 acres.

In 1709, William Huddleston founded Trinity School as the Charity School of the church and classes were originally held in the church's steeple.

In 1750, its steeple and its school were destroyed by a fire and the steeple was rebuilt in 1762.

In 1754, King's College (now Columbia University) was chartered by King George II of Great Britain and started classes with eight students in a building near the church.

View from the eastCloser view from the east

View from the east

The graveyard includes the graves and memorials of many important New Yorkers such as Alexander Hamilton, Albert Gallatin, and Robert Fulton. Hamilton was the first treasurer of the United States and the founder of the Bank of New York. His memorial was created in 1804.

View from the northwest

View from the northwest

In the Revolutionary War, several members of the church at members of the First and Second Continental Congresses but the clergy is on the side of the crown. In September, 1776, the original church and its charity school are destroyed by fire.

In 1784, the state ratifies the church's charger deleting its provision that asserted loyalty to the King of England.

In 1789, after his inauguration at Federal Hall, one block to the west, George Washington attends Thanksgiving service at St. Paul's Chapel of the church, several blocks to the north on Broadway. St. Paul's Chapel is the oldest public building in continuous use in the city.

In 1839, the second church, which was consecrated in 1790, is torn down.

In 1842, the church's Cemetery is established on 23 acres on land that was part of the estate of John James Aububon, the great painter of birds and animals, at 155th Street and Riverside Drive.

In 1919, the church abolishes the practice of charging for its pews.

In the Depression, the church users its properties as hostels for the homeless.

In 1946, the church purchases 470 acres in West Cornwall, Connecticut, along the Housatonic River as a camp and meeting facility.

In 1969, it starts its Noonday Concerts.

On July 9, 1976, Queen Elizabeth II is presented with symbolic "back rent" of 279 peppercorns on her visit to the church.

In 1988, it founds John Heuss House at 42 Beaver Street, a 24-hour center for the homeless.

View from the west

View from the west

The church building has magnificent proportions and its distinctive dark brown stone presents a warm and handsome contrast to the limestone facades of the surrounding office district. In fact, its site is probably the city's second finest architectural space as all of the surrounding buildings are of very high quality and only Rockefeller Plaza is better.

The building on the south side was converted from an office building to a rental apartment building in 1998 and no other apartment building in New York City has comparably dramatic views with the possible exception of Olympic Tower just to the north of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral on Fifth Avenue at 51st Street.

Alexander Hamilton Memorial

Alexander Hamilton's Memorial

Waterfront locations have their allure as do those that front on parks, but both often do not offer central, convenient locations and their views may be beautiful but not dramatic. The building on the south side almost makes the facades of the best Fifth Avenue apartment buildings pale in comparison architecturally. This 23-story building was erected in 1897 and was designed by Francis Kimball of Kimball & Thompson. From 1901 to 1976, it was the headquarters of U. S. Steel. It is the best of the second-generation of converted office buildings in Lower Manhattan that began to flourish in the mid- and late 1990's. The first generation, dating back to the 1980's, included 55 Liberty Street, a very fine skyscraper a few blocks away that is a slightly more impressive building but hemmed in by other major buildings.

While the first generation of such conversions suffered from a lack of residential neighborhood services, the newer crop has led the way to a significant increase of such amenities in the area. New restaurants and stores have opened and the vast and very impressive residential development at Battery Park City along the Hudson River just to the west has buttressed the transformation of the downtown business district to a mixed-use enclave of considerable diversity that has been also aided by the attractions of the South Street Seaport along the East River and the creation in the late 1990's of several museums at the foot of Broadway to the south.

It would be misleading, of course, to proclaim this as the city's most exciting residential neighborhood as it still needs an infusion of more restaurants, markets and stores, and the completion of many major construction projects, but from an architectural viewpoint it is without peer.

The great Art Deco tower of 1 Wall Street rose taller than the church's steeple but its slender, fluted form and light color did not overwhelm the church's architecture.

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