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.

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One thought on “NYC That Never Was: A Methodist Skyscraper Church on Broadway

  1. The Methodist Episcopal Church built three of these, New York, Chicago, San Francisco. Always reminds me of Christ’s words in Luke 14: 28-30. Is the church an advertisement or a sales pitch or a skyscraper? No, its the people. Actions speak louder than words, but actions are only believed by the example you set. Christianity isn’t mocked today because of science or Darwinism, its mocked because it isn’t Christian. If you can’t learn from scripture and see its relevance in everyday life, you’re blind. This building is a perfect example. The 21st Century US could stand to learn from the 1920’s, debt, pleasure, commercial materialism and was Christianity about being good or something else? Thank you for posting this.

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