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The Fourth Universalist Society

160 Central Park West

Southwest corner at 76th Street

Fourth Universalist Society

Fourth Universalist Society

By Carter B. Horsley

This charming church, which serves as an attractive foil to the severe classicism of the New York Historical Society across 76th Street, was erected in 1898 as the Church of the Divine Paternity. Designed by William A. Potter in Perpendicular Gothic style and modelled in part after Magdalen College at Oxford University in England, it boasts an altar by Louis Comfort Tiffany and a relief sculpture by Augustus St. Gaudens.

In their excellent book, "New York 1900, Metropolitan Architecture and Urbanism, 1890-1915," (Rizzoli International Publications, 1883, Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and John Massengale, describe it as "one of the few buildings to break from Central Park West's prevailing Classicism."

Church is just south of NY Historical Society

The church is just south of the New York Historical Society

"A rather archaeological design in English Gothic, it evaded the issue of representing the particular beliefs of the denomination. [Montgomery] Schuyler [a noted architecture critic] described the church as 'a decent and well-behaved example of Anglican church architecture, without any marks of personality or individuality in the architect, any more than with any recognition of the pecularity of the problem.' Potter's design, particularly in light of his earlier eclectic work, reflected the significance attached to the stylistic accuracy in the Composite Era. It stood in sharp contrast to York & Sawyer's equally correct but Classical New York Historical Society."

In his fine book, "Glory in Gotham, Manhattan's Houses of Worship, a Guide to Their History, Architecture and Legacy," (A City & Company Guide, 2001), David W. Dunlap observed that "The Unitarian Universalist Association, formed in 1961, by the consolidation of the Universalists and the Unitarians, describes itself as a noncreedal, liberal religion born of Jewish and Christian traditions." Mr. Dunlap also noted that "Courted by developers in the 1980s for its enormously attractive site, the society instead formed a neighborhood alliance called SOUL - Save Our Universalist Landmark - in which the community pledged to raise the money needed for repairs and maintenance while the church agreed not to exercise its development rights."


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