Calvary Church (Manhattan)

Coordinates: 40°44′21″N 73°59′13″W / 40.739030°N 73.987000°W / 40.739030; -73.987000

A contemporaneous drawing made prior to 1867 of the church with its original wooden spires
Photographic postcard of Calvary Church in the 1880s, after the removal of the spires but with their octagonal bases intact
The church as it appears today (2011); part of Calvary House can be seen on the right

Calvary Church is an Episcopal church located at 277 Park Avenue South on the corner of East 21st Street in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, on the border of the Flatiron District. It was designed by James Renwick Jr., the architect who designed St. Patrick's Cathedral and Grace Church, and was completed in 1848. The church complex is located within the Gramercy Park Historic District and Extension.[1] It is one of the two sanctuaries of the Calvary-St. George's Parish.


The Calvary Church parish was founded in 1832, and initially used a wooden-frame church on what was then Fourth Avenue – which has since become Park Avenue – uptown of its current site.[2][3] That building was moved to the current location in 1842,[3] and the new Renwick-designed Gothic Revival sanctuary was completed in 1848.[3] Renwick patterned Calvary after twin-towered French cathedrals, but, unlike Grace Church, Calvary was constructed of brownstone.[4] The church's two wooden spires were removed in September 1860 when they became unstable; the octagonal bases remained but eventually deteriorated and were removed in 1929.[5][6]

The church complex also includes the nine-story Calvary House, east of the church on Gramercy Park North (East 21st Street), also designed by Renwick, and built in 1867,[6][7] and the "Renwick Gem" Schoolhouse, a small building to the north of the church which was built as a theatre but used for that purpose only for a short time before being utilized for the Calvary Church Sunday school. It has a large interior space, about 27 feet (8.2 m) between the columns, which were designed to hold up the heavy slate roof without the use of exterior buttresses. The building, which as of 2011 houses the 4th and 5th grade classes of the École Internationale de New York, compensates for the shadowing of the taller buildings around through Renwick's use of 42 clerestory windows.[8]

The "Renwick Gem" Schoolhouse

The family of Theodore Roosevelt lived two blocks away from Calvary Church from 1854 to 1872 – Roosevelt was born in their house in 1858, and Calvary was the church the family belonged to.[2] Other congregants included members of the Astor and Vanderbilt families.[7]

The church enjoys a close historical association with the Washington National Cathedral. In 1896, the rector of Calvary, Henry Yates Satterlee, was consecrated the first Episcopal Bishop of Washington in a ceremony in Calvary Church.[9] Satterlee was instrumental in procuring Mount Saint Alban as the site for the Cathedral, and he laid the Cathedral's main cornerstone in 1907.[10] The parishioners of Calvary donated the church’s baptismal font to the new cathedral, and it is located in the Bethlehem Chapel.

Calvary has a strong connection to Alcoholics Anonymous. When the Rev. Dr. Samuel Shoemaker was the minister there, from 1925 to 1952, Calvary House became the American center of the Oxford Group,[7] from which came some of A.A.'s major underlying ideas.[3] Bill Wilson, the co-founder of the twelve-step group, wrote: "It is through Sam Shoemaker that most of A.A.'s spiritual principles have come. Sam is one of the great channels, one of the prime sources of influences that have gathered themselves into what is now A.A."[11]

In 1976, facing financial difficulty, Calvary parish merged with the nearby parishes of St. George's Church and the Church of the Holy Communion.[12] The Holy Communion buildings were deconsecrated and sold to pay down the debts of the new combined parish, eventually becoming the Limelight disco, and the remaining two churches continued to operate as Calvary-St. George's Parish. Calvary House is now rented out as offices.[6]

Notable people[edit]

Calvary Church in the Snow (1893) by Childe Hassam

Notable clergymen, parishioners, and others associated with Calvary Church have included:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Dolkart, Andrew S.; Postal, Matthew A. (2009). Postal, Matthew A. (ed.). Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1., pp.84-85
  2. ^ a b c "History" on the Calvary-St. George's Parish website
  3. ^ a b c d Dunlap, David W. (2004). From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan's Houses of Worship. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12543-7., pp.36-37
  4. ^ "St. Stephen's Church" (PDF). Designation List 406, LP-2259. Landmarks Preservation Commission. October 28, 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-28. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  5. ^ Garmey, Stephen (1984). Gramercy Park: An Illustrated History of a New York Neighborhood. New York: Balsam Press, Inc. p. 62. ISBN 0-917439-00-7.
  6. ^ a b c White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot (2000). AIA Guide to New York City (4th ed.). New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-8129-3107-5., p.207
  7. ^ a b c Federal Writers' Project (1939). New York City Guide. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-60354-055-1. (Reprinted by Scholarly Press, 1976; often referred to as WPA Guide to New York City.), p.197
  8. ^ "About Us: Building: The Schoolhouse" Archived 2011-12-10 at the Wayback Machine on the Ecole Internationale de New York website
  9. ^ "To be made a Bishop" (PDF). New York Times. March 22, 1896. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  10. ^ "Cathedral History: Centennial of Bethlehem Chapel Cornerstone". Washington National Cathedral. Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  11. ^ in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes Of Age (1957), quoted in "History" on the Calvary-St. George's Parish website
  12. ^ "Official History" Archived 2011-01-18 at the Wayback Machine on the parish website
  13. ^ Howe, George Frederick (1957). Chester A. Arthur: A Quarter Century of Machine Politics. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. p. 18.
  14. ^ Shoemaker, Samuel Moor (1936). Calvary Church, Yesterday and Today: A Centennial History. New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company. p. 57.
  15. ^ Mackenzie Stuart, Amanda (2005). Consuelo and Alva: Love, Power and Suffrage in the Gilded Age. London: HarperCollins. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-00-712730-6.
  16. ^ Shoemaker, Samuel Moor (1936). Calvary Church, Yesterday and Today: A Centennial History. New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company. p. 286.
  17. ^ Death of Mrs Foster the Tombs Angel, The Churchman, Volume 85, Churchman Company – 1902, page 285
  18. ^ James Renwick Jr's 1848 Calvary Episcopal Church – Daytonian in Manhattan
  19. ^ "Calvary Episcopal Church". American Guild of Organists, New York City Chapter. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  20. ^ a b Shoemaker, Samuel Moor (1936). Calvary Church, Yesterday and Today: A Centennial History. New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company. p. 295.
  21. ^ Shoemaker, Samuel Moor (1936). Calvary Church, Yesterday and Today: A Centennial History. New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company. pp. 34–35.
  22. ^ Hone, Philip (1889). The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828–1851. Vol. 2. New York, NY: Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 331–333. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  23. ^ Sears, Stephen W. (1988). George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon. New York: Da Capo Press. p. 63. ISBN 0-306-80913-3.
  24. ^ "First Lady Biography: Eleanor Roosevelt". National First Ladies' Library. The National First Ladies' Library. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  25. ^ Garmey, Stephen (1984). Gramercy Park: An Illustrated History of a New York Neighborhood. New York: Balsam Press, Inc. p. 155. ISBN 0-917439-00-7.
  26. ^ "Anna "Eleanor" Roosevelt". My Faith My Life:A Place for Episcopal Teens and Their Mentors. Archived from the original on 2011-02-11. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  27. ^ Moss, Sylvia. "What do Eleanor Roosevelt, Edith Wharton, Architect James Renwick Jr. and Dante have in common?". Angels of New York. Sylvia Moss. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  28. ^ "Dr. Satterlee is Chosen" (PDF). New York Times. December 7, 1895. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  29. ^ Dick B. (2005). "Rev. Sam Shoemaker, an A.A. "Co-Founder" and Spiritual Source". Alcoholics Anonymous History. A.A. History. Archived from the original on September 30, 2011. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  30. ^ "Gramercy Park Historic District, Borough of Manhattan" (PDF). Number 3, LP-0251. Landmarks Preservation Commission. September 20, 1966. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
  31. ^ "Life and Times of Actress EJ Phillips: Churches". Retrieved February 25, 2011.

External links[edit]