Lower Manhattan’s Original Skyscraper Needs Some Touching Up

Trinity Church Plans Major Restoration of Facade, Doors, and Stained-Glass Windows

An architectural team overseeing the restoration of Trinity Church is proposing the addition of a 91-foot long glass and metal canopy to the building's south facade,which Community Board 1 views as detracting from the structure's historic character.An architectural team overseeing the restoration of Trinity Church is proposing the addition of a 91-foot long glass and metal canopy to the building's south facade,which Community Board 1 views as detracting from the structure's historic character.

The structure that once dominated the skyline of Lower Manhattan — and remains a spiritual and cultural touchstone of the Downtown community to this day — is planning to have some work done. The Trinity Church that now stands at Broadway and Wall Street is actually the third incarnation of the same house of worship, which has occupied the site since 1696. The current structure was completed in 1846, when its 281-foot spire made it the tallest building in the United States. A church in Chicago wrested that title away 23 years later, but Trinity remained the tallest structure in New York until 1883, when the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge surpassed it. Even so, at 172 years young, the building is ready from some maintenance and rehabilitation.

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To oversee this, Trinity has hired the architectural firm of Murphy, Burnham, and Buttrick, which shepherded a 2016 restoration of the similarly august St. Paul’s Chapel (located at Broadway and Vesey Streets), which is part of the same Episcopal parish. (The same firm also captained a 2012 restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.)

Trinity Church plans to restore several of its historic stained-glass windows, and replace a handful of the gates surrounding the property, along with multiple doors leading to its churchyard. Bringing the structure into the 21st Century will be a pair of ramps designed to ease accessibility for the handicapped. These ramps will be surfaced with bluestone and are designed in style consistent with the existing facade, which will make them blend seamlessly with Trinity’s neo-Gothic design idiom. Another modern (but similarly subtle) touch will be the addition of light-emitting diodes for illumination, inside and out, which will add both luminous accents to the facade.
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Because Trinity is a legally protected landmark, all of these changes must be approved by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). That panel requires local community boards to weigh in on proposed modifications to historic structure within their borders. So it was that Community Board 1 (CB1) considered Trinity’s planned restoration at its December 22 monthly meeting.

CB1 voted to recommend that the LPC authorize all of the work Trinity is contemplating, with one exception. The Murphy, Burnham, and Buttrick team have also proposed a 91-foot long glass and metal canopy on the south side of the building. CB1’s resolution endorsing all of Trinity’s other planned changes said the canopy, “is not appropriate, blocks historic features on the building and should be removed entirely from the proposal.”

The LPC is expected to make a final determination on Trinity’s restoration plans later this spring.

Comments

  1. CATHERINE STANKE says

    As a member of Trinity Church for more than 10 years and resident of New York City for over 25, I do hope the renovations will be subtle. I love historic architecture and would hate for Trinity to lose its historical ambiance. Ramps are needed by law (I assume) but have never yet seem them put in in a way that is subtle. They always ruin the original look. What about a small elevator? Any way to hide that? Any other option?

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