This elegant, Art Deco-style, limestone-clad church is one of
only two religious structures on Fifth Avenue on the Upper East
Side. The other, to which it bears a stylistic resemblance, is
Congregation Emanu-El, on the northeast corner at 65th Street
(see The City Review article).
This site was acquired in 1917 by Andrew Carnegie whose huge mansion
and garden, now the National Design Museum of the Smithsonian
Institution, is directly across 90th Street. Carnegie wanted a
"light protector" on this site for his large, fenced
garden and in 1924 his widow offered it in 1924 to the Episcopal
congregation of the Church of the Heavenly Rest, which was founded
in 1865 was located then in a structure on Fifth Avenue at 45th
The church commissioned the architectural firm of Mayers, Murray
& Phillip, which was the associate architectural firm for
the design of Congregation Emanu-El. Mayers, Murray & Phillip
was the successor firm of Bertram Goodhue, an architect well known
for his religious structures such as St. Thomas Episcopal Church
on Fifth Avenue at 53rd Street (see The
City Review article) and the St. Vincent Ferrer Roman Catholic
Church on Lexington Avenue.
In his fine book, "Touring
the Upper East Side, Walks in Five Historic Districts," (published
in 1995 by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Andrew S. Dolkart
provides the following commentary:
"Goodhue's successors designed the new church in the 'American
Gothic' manner. The boldly massed structure was erected with a
modern steel frame and has austere limestone façades articulated
by large pointed-arched openings and sculpted figures that seem
to grow organically from the stonework. This is especially evident
at the entrance with its figures of Moses and John the Baptist
and its pair of winged angels. The front doors are worth close
examination: the metal hinges are embossed with scenes of the
history of religion (and this church congregation) in New York
City. The magnificent open plan interior features vibrantly-colored
abstract stained glass, fine carved woodwork, and a pulpit by
sculptor Malvina Hoffman."
The building was completed in 1929.
In their excellent book,
"New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism between The Two
World Wars" (Rizzoli International, 1987), Robert A. M. Stern,
Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins provide the following commentary
about the architects and this church:
"Their powerful, stripped-Gothic
Church of the Heavenly Rest...relied on the striking contrast
of broad areas of blank stonework with large-scale openings filled
with delicate Gothic tracery. With its two squat turrets flanking
the main entrance on Fifth Avenue accentuating the church's massive
bulk and Lee Lawrie's sculptures over the door merging imperceptibly
with the wall to heighten the sense that the building have been
carved fom a single block of stone, the Church of the Heavenly
Rest's heroic scale was in part a response to its unsympathetic
In his excellent book, "Glory
in Gotham, Manhattan's Houses of Worship, a Guide to Their History,
Architecture and Legacy," David Dunlap, published as a City
& Company Guide in 2001 (see The
City Review article), notes that Carnegie's widow, Louise,
stipulated a 75-foot-high limitation on this site and that the
sculptor Lee Lawrie also worked on the new church. "During
a restoration, it suffered a devastating fire in August 1993.
The stained-glass windows were spared, the Rev. C. Hugh Hildesley
said gratefully, because firefighters carefully and deliberately
used more complicated means to ventilate the 1,000-degree blaze,"
The church has sponsored
a series of jazz concerts for many years and is also home to the
Canterbury Choral Society.
It is adjacent to the National Academy of Art and it has two nice
marble benches flanking its entrance.
It is directly across from the Engineer's Gate in Central Park,
which is an entrance to the running track around the park's reservoir
and also an exit from the north drive in the park.