In 1923, four years before construction on the bridge began, the congregation of the Methodist Church in Washington Heights received news that the church would be razed to accommodate the soon-to-be-built George Washington Bridge. The church’s head, Reverend Christian Reisner, proposed an elaborate solution.
Reisner planned a 40-story church at Broadway and West 173rd Street. His instructions to architect Donn Barber were to ”magnificent advertisement for God’s business,” and Barber delivered. The “Broadway Temple,” as the church would be named, would have a 2,000-seat nave, a five-story basement complete with a swimming pool and bowling alley, all topped off with a 75-foot-high rotating cross that could be seen from 100 miles away. The 725-foot structure was willed by God, according to Reisner, and also included playgrounds, classrooms, dormitories, a cafeteria and two 12-story apartment buildings that flanked the central tower.
The church may have been divinely willed, but its $4 million price tag couldn’t be paid by God. Instead, Reisner looked to a number of millionaires–who were evidently richer than God–for help. John D. Rockefeller donated $100,000, and engineer Charles V. Bob paid for the rotating cross. Two years after the proposal, $2 million had been raised and construction began on the temple. The two 12-story apartments were completed in 1927, but only the basement bowling alley, gym and social space were also finished by the start of the Depression. By then, rising costs had pushed the project to over $5 million and construction came to a halt.
The church didn’t overcome its debt until after Reisner died in 1940. In 1947, construction of the Broadway Temple finally resumed on a smaller scale. The finished temple, completed in 1952, is three stories compared to the original forty and was designed by the same architects of the Empire State Building. While Reisner’s lofty plan didn’t survive, the church itself did. Today, the building still serves as the Broadway Temple United Methodist Church, perhaps a sign that divine will was on Reisner’s side after all.