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The First Church of Christ, Scientist

1 West 96th Street

Northwest corner at Central Park West

View from the southeast

View from the southeast

By Carter B. Horsley

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, on the northwest corner of Central Park West and 96th Street is a monumental edifice of very imposing grandeur.

Designed by Carrère & Hastings, it was completed in 1904.

In their excellent book, "New York 1900, Metropolitan Architecture and Urbanism, 1890-1915," (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1983," Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and John Massengale describe the structure as "a major monument of the Composite Era, it was one of the city's most compelling religious structures in the Classical manner," and provide the following commentary:

"Carrère & Hastings's evocation of the low church architecture of Georgian London and New England set the tone for many subsequent Christian Science churches throughout the northeast. Carrère & Hastings achieved a remarkable sense of soliditynot only through the blocky composition, inspired by the English Mannerist architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, but also through the use of extremely large blocks of a white Concord granite, a stone so hard that it shattered mechanical saws and had to be cut by hand. Inside, the church was less distinctly English in feeling. A gallery wrapped around three sides of the auditorium, and barrel vaults sprang from piers which barely cleared the galleries, creating a powerfully encompassing effect. The room was largely undecorated, except for an elaborate organ case and rich Modern French plasterwork on the ceiling, which also contained roundels of concealed lighting. Supported above the auditorium arches were the church's offices, reading rooms and extensive Sunday school facilities. Clearly expressed on the exterior, their location reflected a unique solution to the problem of the parochial complex. Owen R. Washburn was correct in his assessment for the Architectural Record: "if we may not speak of a cathedral, in this case, we surely possess the metropolitan church."

View from the northeast

View from the northeast

The Christian Science Church was founded in Boston by Mary Baker Eddy after the Civil War and emphasized healing through faith. Mrs. Eddy appointed Augusta Stetson in the 1880s to establish a branch in New York City.

In his superb book, "New York Streetscapes: Tales of Significant Buildings and Landmarks," (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2003), Christopher Gray observes that Mrs. Stetson apparently was quite "contentious." "When the Second Church of Christ, Scientist bought a building site at 68th Street and Central Park West in 1898, she tried to interfere with their purchase, and then purchased one two blocks south, to try to scare them away from what she thought was First Church's neighborhood. When Mrs. Eddy died in 1910 she left a bequest to Second Church, but not Mrs. Stetson's organization. In 1909, while still head for First Church, Mrs. Stetson was excommunicated from the Mother Church in Boston and then left First Church. However, she remained in her house next door at 5 West 96th Street, successfully suing First Church in 1923 to prevent it from erecting a wall that would cut off her east light. She died in 1928."

View looking down Central Park West

View from the Northeast looking down Central Park West

In 2003, First Church announced its intention to sell the church. A March 27, 2004 article in The New York Times by Thomas J. Lueck reported that the church was in negotiations to sell the property to the Crenshaw Christian Center, which is based in Los Angeles, for about $14 million. The article indicated that this church's congregation has merged with that of the Second Church of Christ, Scientist, located 28 blocks to the south on Central Park West (see The City Review article on the Second Church of Christ, Scientist). The Times's article indicated the 2,200-seat church has no air-conditioning and said that the Crenshaw Christian Center was founded in 1973 by African-American religious broadcaster Frederick K. C. Price, who remains its pastor, and that the center is "one of the nation's fastest-growing ministries" and "is based in the Faithdome, a colossal geodesic dome in South Central Los Angeles that seats 10,000 people and is one of the world's largest houses of worship." (3/28/04)

 

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