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Landmarks Preservation Commission January 30, 2007, Designation List 385 LP-2164

ST. ALOYSIUS ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, 209-217 West 132nd Street, Manhattan. Built 1902-04; William W. Renwick, architect; New York Architectural Terra Cotta Co., terra cotta; Grueby Faience Co., glazed brick.

Landmark Site: Borough of Manhattan Tax Map Block 1938, Lot 124.

On September 21, 2004, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing on the proposed designation as a Landmark of St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church and the proposed designation of the related Landmark Site (Item No. 1). The hearing had been duly advertised in accordance with the provisions of law. Sixteen people spoke in favor of designation, including U.S. Congressman Charles B. Rangel, the pastor of St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church, former Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Gene A. Norman, and representatives of the Archdiocese of New York, City Councilman Bill Perkins, the Municipal Art Society of New York, Historic Districts Council, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America, and Landmarks West! One speaker opposed designation. In addition, the Commission has received letters in support of designation from State Senator David A. Paterson and Manhattan Community Board 10. The Commission had previously held a public hearing on the church on June 14, 1966.

Summary

The richly ornamented, polychrome St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church was built in 1902-04 to the design of William W. Renwick based on Italian Gothic prototypes, an unusual source of stylistic inspiration for buildings in New York City. Named after the 16th-century Italian St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the church was organized in 1899 by Rev. John A. McKenna and constructed during a church-building campaign in Harlem to accommodate the growing immigrant population. W.W. Renwick, nephew of noted architect James Renwick, Jr., joined his uncle’s firm in 1885 and became a junior partner in 1890. In his work in that firm and its successors, and in independent practice after 1900, he specialized in ecclesiastical architecture

and decoration. The intricate facade of St. Aloysius, considered one of W.W. Renwick’s commissions, consists of alternating bands of red brick, celadon-colored glazed brick (by the

most important Grueby Faience

Co.), and glazed “granitex” (with the color and texture of grey granite) terra cotta with cobalt blue accents (by the New York Architectural Terra Cotta Co.) in a wide variety of molded motifs. The design also features four sculptural reliefs depicting the Holy Family, the head of Christ, and angels, set on cobalt blue densely-glazed backgrounds. It is a very early example in New York City of the use of polychromatic architectural ceramic. Noted critic Montgomery Schuyler praised the color and decorative scheme and Renwick’s handling of the terra cotta. The original congregation was made up mostly of German, Irish, and Italian immigrants, but in 1935, in response to the changed demographics of Harlem, St. Aloysius became a mission church for the conversion of African-Americans to Catholicism. In 1947, the parish ceased its mission status and again became independent. St. Aloysius, with its handsomely decorative polychrome facade, is one of New

York City’s most distinctive Catholic church designs.

Photo: c. 1965

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