New York’s churches are some of its oldest and most iconic buildings, and perhaps due to some divine intervention, many have been saved from destruction by being repurposed into homes or commercial buildings. Today, we’re visiting five such conversions, revealing their stories dating back to their holy days.
1. New York Gospel Tabernacle Church: At John’s Pizzeria in Times Square, visitors marvel at the size and beautiful stained glass ceiling of the restaurant, the chain’s most popular location. Still, many fail to realize that the building was once a church! Built in 1888, the church was led by Canadian preacher A. B. Simpson, who wanted to help  locals reform their lives. Simpson later became the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination that emphasizes global evangelism.

10-church conversions-history-new york-untapped cities-wesley yiinJohn’s Pizzeria’s beautiful stained glass ceiling

2. Washington Square United Methodist Church: The Novare in Greenwich Village, which made headlines when renter Jude Law threw fruit at NYU students, was fittingly once one of the most liberal churches of its time. Washington Square Church, often called “Peace Church,” actively opposed the Vietnam War and was notably gay-friendly. It was not only the site of the Harvey Milk School of gay and lesbian youth, its pastor Rev. Paul M. Abels was the first openly gay minister in any of the major Christian denominations. In 2004, the Romanesque Revival building was sold, thus paving the path for its conversion into apartments.

1-church conversions-history-new york-untapped cities-wesley yiinThe Novare in Greenwich Village

3. Church of the Holy Communion: 656 Avenue of the Americas has been a church, a rehab center, a nightclub, and a mall. It’s currently known as the Limelight Marketplace, after the time of the nightclub, Limelight. In the documentary, “Limelight: The Rise and Fall of New York’s Greatest Nightclub Empire,” the club was referred to as “pagan Rome on acid, Caligula with music,” which gives you an idea of the debaucherous parties thrown there. Prior to this, the building also housed the Lindisfarne Association, an intellectual group founded by historian William Irwin Thompson. When Lindisfarne moved to Colorado, the Episcopal parish sold the building to Odyssey House, a rehab center, before it turned into Limelight.

7-church conversions-history-new york-untapped cities-wesley yiinThe top floor of the Limelight Marketplace

8-church conversions-history-new york-untapped cities-wesley yiinThe interior of the Limelight

9-church conversions-history-new york-untapped cities-wesley yiinA well-preserved stained glass window. Others have holes or pieces missing from them.

4. Strong Place Baptist Church: This church in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, was designed by one of America’s most famous church architects: Minard Lafever. Four of his buildings have been named National Historic Landmarks, not including the church, which has since been converted into a condominium suitably called The Landmark at Strong Place, which contains 23 units of varying size and layout.

5-church conversions-history-new york-untapped cities-wesley yiinSide view of The Landmark

5. St. Ann’s Church: Before it was leveled to make room for NYU’s newest dormitory Founders Hall, St. Ann’s in East Village was called “among the most beautiful” by The New York Times. The church was rededicated in 1983 as an Eastern Catholic Church to better suit the community, but closed permanently in 2003. In 2005, it was announced as the site of the newest NYU residence hall, and the building was mostly destroyed in spite of strong local opposition to its conversion. Today, only the facade of St. Ann’s remains in front of the first-year dorm.

12-church conversions-history-new york-untapped citiesSt. Ann’s facade, completely disconnected from Founders

Below are three additional church to apartment conversions:

2-church conversions-history-new york-untapped cities-wesley yiin 99 Clinton Street, a church-turned-condo in Brooklyn Heights

3-church conversions-history-new york-untapped cities-wesley yiinThe Arches at Cobble Hill, another condo, formerly St. Peter’s Church

6-church conversions-history-new york-untapped cities-wesley yiin450 Clinton Street, formerly the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, now a condominium in Carroll Gardens

Get in touch with the author @YiinYangYale.