18/11/2021 By RuneLite
Q Our church, the Roman Catholic Church of St. John the Martyr, is sandwiched between other buildings at 250 East 72nd Street in Manhattan. When was it built and who designed it? We are applying for a grant that would help us to repair our roof and make other very critical repairs. ... Susan Trammell, trustee of St. John the Martyr, Manhattan
A Your church is actually the chapel of a much larger project proposed in 1886 for the Knox Presbyterian Church and designed by Robert Henderson Robertson. The project was to have included the corner lot on Second Avenue.
Robertson (1849-1919) originally conceived a building with a 125-foot-high corner tower and at least seven pairs or triplets of round arches. The church’s Romanesque style and heavy, rocky-looking brownstone were his trademark in 1880s New York, just as convoluted facades are the signature of Frank Gehry today.
In 1886, The Real Estate Record and Guide reported that the exterior would be of Belleville stone, probably referring to the variably near-red or cocoa-colored stone quarried in Essex County, N.J., and that the slate roof would be of red Akron tiles.
In 1887, the congregation took possession of a portion of the proposed church, a small chapel facing 72nd Street. As built, the original chapel design was flipped from right to left. It cost $25,000 and seated 700, and in 1888 The New York Times said the church would build the rest of the structure in the next year.
But it was never executed, and in 1891 The Times reported that at least 36 of the most influential members intended to secede over the projected appointment of a new pastor. The unhappy parishioners charged that the church minutes had been altered and that the rival faction was throwing “dust in the eyes of church members.”
In 1904, the Knox congregation sold its chapel to St. John’s. In that year The Times reported that St. John’s possessed a remarkable reliquary, containing a section of the rope used in the scourging of Jesus; part of the red robe worn by Jesus after the scourging; pieces of the cross; the table of the Last Supper; the crib of Jesus; and bone fragments of the 12 apostles.
By 1912, Msgr. Michael J. Lavelle, the rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, had possession of the reliquary and according to The Times, parishioners were clamoring for its return. The Times added that there was “no foundation” for a report that the archdiocese was suspicious of its authenticity, and said that the artifacts were unquestionably genuine.
The chapel stands today little changed from 1887. But the reliquary is not there, said the Rev. Sean Harlow, the church’s pastor.
R. H. Robertson is sometimes confused with the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who was also a master of the use of rocky-looking brownstone, as in his 1877 Trinity Church in Boston.
Robertson began practicing around 1872. A Presbyterian, member of many clubs and expert golfer and horseman, he was well connected in the Protestant establishment.
An early work in his tectonic manner was the 1884 Madison Avenue Methodist Church, which stood at 60th and Madison. A central tower dominated this chunky, rectangular form, and the open belfry of the round-arched tower and deep-set paired windows flanking the doorway gave this a slightly haunted look, with a resonance to modern eyes of Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting “The Scream.”
The next year, his St. James’ Episcopal Church opened at 71st and Madison with a similar form and surface treatment, but a more complex Madison Avenue facade. Most of Robertson’s design was removed in a 1920s alteration, although that work reused the reddish brownstone of the original.
In 1887, Robertson completed the Young Women’s Christian Association, at 7 East 15th Street, of brick mixed with rocky-surfaced brownstone, the heavy half-round arches along the ground floor visually supporting the great weight of masonry above.
Although now gone, the old Academy of Medicine building on West 43rd Street, of 1890, was also characteristic of Robertson’s design: deep-set windows and rock-faced stone, with two picturesque gables. One critic panned the building in a review in The Real Estate Record and Guide in 1891, calling it “vigorous to the point of rudeness.” This same critic found the nearby Century Association “very florid,” with “entirely meaningless” decoration.
In 1892, Robertson finished St. Luke’s Church, at 141st and Convent Avenue, also in his signature Romanesque style with rock-faced, heavily modeled, deep red brownstone. It was to have a tower, never completed. But the church has a rich, rhythmic arcaded porch, and the architectural historian Andrew S. Dolkart calls it “one of the most powerful architectural statements in New York.”
Robertson continued to hew to the picturesque in later works, like the McIntyre Building at 18th and Broadway, the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew at 86th and West End, and the American Tract Society Building at 150 Nassau Street.
These works are memorable, but do not fully share the coherence of his sturdy rocky designs of the 1880s and early 1890s.