St. Alphonsus Church, New York, South Fifth Avenue near Canal

Architect Francis G. Himpler American, born Germany
Publisher Hatch & Co. American

Not on view

This New York City street view shows a stately church with a single bell tower at building's left side. Pedestrians approach the church on the sidewalk, while several worshipers enter it through a grand, triple-arched entry. In front of the church, a couple is seated in a horse-drawn carriage. This print, produced shortly after St. Alphonsus was dedicated on April 7, 1872, documents the building, which stood until 1980.

Plans began in 1870 to erect this church to better accommodate the growing populations of German and Irish Catholic worshippers in lower Manhattan. After land was acquired on South Fifth Avenue (renamed West Broadway in 1897) just north of Canal Street, German-born architect Francis G. Himpler, who had arrived in the United States in 1867, was hired to design the new structure. He drew architectural inspiration from "Sicilian Romanesque" styles. Archibishop John McCloskey laid the cornerstone on September 4, 1870. The church, faced in Philadelphia brick and trimmed in Ohio brownstone and bluestone, cost $275,000--more than $5.8 million or so today. The Evening World newspaper described it as "one of the most imposing in town," and The New York Times said "It is scarcely surpassed in beauty of its interior by any church in the City."

A broad set of granite steps led to the triple-arched entrance two stories below the seventeen-foot-wide rose window. A soaring bell tower containing three bells which weighed 4,000, 3,000 and 1,500 pounds rose 190 feet above the sidewalk. A statue of St. Alphonsus, eight and a half feet tall, stood within a niche in the gable. The Times further said "The altar was imported from Munich at a cost of $12,000 in gold. It is a magnificent piece of workmanship, with [a] massive dome overhead, and elegantly designed pillars of green marble, with gilt capitals." It had been executed by Meyer & Co. from designs provided by Himpler. In addition, there were seventy-nine stained glass windows, and frescoes depicting the life of St. Alphonsus (the latter were done by William Lamprecht).

The organ, built by E. and G.G. Hook of Boston (later electrified by the successor firm, Hook and Hastings), had sixty-five full stops within a forty-six feet high black walnut case (surmounted by two angels with trumpets). A century later, in 1972, when E. Power Biggs, among the most celebrated concert organists in the world, visited St. Alphonsus, he deemed the organ to be one of the most magnificent of the rare, surviving nineteenth-century organs.

In the 1970s, however, there were signs that the building itself was unstable: the marble floor was sagging and cracks appeared on the walls. The church structure was gradually sinking into the filled-in canal (from which Canal Street derived its name) beneath its foundation; modern-day vibrations from subway and automobile traffic aggravated this dire situation. The church had to close in October 1979 due to the threat of falling plaster. As the archdiocese could not afford the exceedingly high costs of foundation and structural repairs, the property was put up for sale in 1980 and there was a lquidation sale of all of statues, stained-glass windows, and hundreds of other religious artifacts. The organ was re-located to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where it still remains. While St. Alphonsus Church was recognized by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission and architectural community as a very fine building deserving preservation, its severe structural problems necessitated its being demolished. In 1996, the Soho Grand Hotel (310 West Broadway) was built on the former church site.

For further information about this church building's history, see the 2019 blog post (a resource for much the text here): .

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