CLUB LIMELIGHT aka Church of the Holy Communion

Right here in New York, a church on 20th st. and 6th ave. has served as religious institution, night club (2 incarnations: Limelight and later, Avalon), weekend market and now, a forthcoming retail location.

It can be argued that only in the repurposing of architecture can the lines between commerce, religion and politics be truly contested. In suburbia, Wal-Marts and big box stores have been converted into evangelical megachurches. The connection between commerce and religion is not only isolated to the retrofitting of built structures, but writers also frame the megachuch phenomenon in commercial terms. For example, “People are leaving the corner ‘Mom and Pop’ church for the giant Wal-Mart church down the road.” (The Doors of the Church are Closed, Dana Carson).  The converse is also true–advertising strategies of Wal-Mart have been described using religious language. Just last year, Retailing Today announced that Wal-Mart was “launching a plan to activate its shoppers into ‘conversion consumers.”

Former Wal Mart now Cavalry Church in St. Petersburg, FL

Former Wal Mart now Cavalry Church in St. Petersburg, FL

Right here in New York, a church on 20th st. and 6th ave. has served as religious institution, night club (2 incarnations: Limelight and later, Avalon), weekend market and now, a forthcoming retail location. What began as the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion built 1844-1850 by Richard M. Upjohn, architect of Wall Street’s Trinity Church, later became the locus of torrid criminal behavior. A club promoter murdered and dismembered one of Limelight’s resident drug dealers. Coming of age in New York during the ’90s, I can personally attest to both the myth and the reality of megaclubs like  Tunnel, Exit (now Terminal 5) and Limelight.


The church is built in the Gothic Revival style and the medieval details once referenced the ornamentation of row houses nearby (since demolished). It avoided a similar fate because its last minister petitioned for Landmark status. Now that the structure is surrounded by big box stores such as Filene’s Basement, Bed, Bath & Beyond and the Container Store, it is only appropriate that it’s next reincarnation will be as a retail store. Today the site is marked by graffiti, construction, and the spotlights that once lit up the exterior of the club at night. And if you’re lucky, you will meet “Battle Star Richard,” a WWII vet who sometimes sets up shop with a variety of eccentric trinkets and will recount for you in beautiful and informed prose the history of Martha Washington, Adolf Hitler and his experience with Jacqueline, a French dominatrix in post-war France.



Church of the Holy Communion is located in Chelsea, at 20th st. and 6th ave.
Subway: 1 to 18th st. or 23rd st., R/W to 23rd St.

All photos by Michelle Young, except for Cavalry Church by Flickr user adonis hunter/ahptical.

 chelsea, church, landmarks, limelight, preservation, walmart

14 Responses
  1. Virginia W Wittenberg Reply

    I was from westchester I loved this place made my life better I wish tha I had inside pictures & pictures when I saw Boy George there I just loved this place

  2. This Mall is totally unnecessary.
    In a city full of shops and stores, the new Limelight market only serves to remind one of the once lovely club scene that used to flourish in it’s great halls. It’s a sad trip for anyone that remembers the old Limelight and it’s many great parties. Save yourself the pain and avoid that block. Maybe someday, it will be a club again.
    Here’s a link to some party pictures from the old Limelight:

  3. do anyone know where to find plans, sections, or descriptions of the architectural modifications that happened inside or outside the church while being changed into nightclub and then the mall?? Thank you for your answer!

    • Michelle Young Reply

      The best place to find that would be the Department of Buildings at City Hall. You would need to know the block and lot number in order to get the files pulled. Make sure to call in advance. Do find out the block & lot numbers, go to

  4. The church was a pretty one. My family went there for years when it was run by its last minister Reverend Elliott who was a tall funny lanky man with a kind heart. The stained glass windows were very beautiul and only the main stained glass window remains. It was a shame the Episcopal church sold the church to the Limelight a total abomindation for what the church and the spiritual community it fostered stood for. At least the shell of the building remains if not the heart. I think it and the old Jewish Portuguese cemetary on 21st street are the last vestiges of a community that existed there back in the 1850s.

    • Michelle Young Reply

      Thanks for your feedback Dylan! Always great to add stories to the images. Have you seen the new shopping center that’s opened up inside?

      • I went into the shopping mall while I was in New York recently. I hav e mixed feelings about the mall. It is an improvement over the Limelight and very upscale but it’s like seeing little fragments of my childhood being used as window dressing. The only part that I recognized of the interior was the stained glass which was above the altar. Some use had to be found for the church to survive as a structure. The outside of course looks like it always did. I am curious if the headstones on the side were moved or left in place? The story behind the headstones was that they were doing some construction on 20th Street and they found these headstones and asked the Church if they wanted them. Well the Episcopal church never turns anyone away living or dead so the church took them.

        • Dylan,

          I am a very old acquaintance of yours from college
          days in Chicago. i was by the Limelight in fact
          this past Saturday night, as it is now a retail
          mall. I was there in its nightclub days, and have
          tales to tell. Good to know that your family
          actually attended church there.

        • Virginia LoPresto Reply

          Very interesting story about your family attending the church. I used to know you back in the Marshall Chess club days when we were both teenagers. Good to know you are still around. My first business had it’s offices right next store to the church at 37 W. 20th. It was during the Limelight years and I always found it a shame that this building was used as a nightclub. A shopping mall seems a stup up I suppose. Take care.
          Ginny LoPresto (nee D’Amico)

  5. I really wish I could have D.J.’ed there,……or even performed my music there. Such a beautiful building.

    Youtube——–Joey “Binky “Runaway” Dance track, originally by Del Shannon

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