also features four sculptural reliefs (installed c. 1905-09) depicting the Holy Family, the head of Christ, and angels, set on cobalt blue densely-glazed backgrounds.
St. Aloysius, with its combination of two colors and textures of glazed terra cotta and two types and colors of brick, is a very early example in New York City of the use of polychromatic architectural ceramic. The church is contemporary with three far better-known examples of this trend: the Broadway Chambers Building (1899-1900, Cass Gilbert), 273-277 Broadway; the Beaver Building (1903-04, Clinton & Russell), 82- 92 Beaver Street; and Madison Square Presbyterian Church (1903-06, McKim, Mead & White; demolished). It is also a major early example of the use of granitex terra cotta. Terra cotta expert Susan Tunick has noted that, in contrast to previous usages of terra cotta in the late 19th century as a distinct material, 18
at the turn of the century, as new glaze textures and finishes became available, once again the issue of terra cotta as a substitute material arose. This time glazed terra cotta was produced to intentionally mimic other building materials. ... Since terra cotta was cheaper than stone, it was often chosen as an economic substitute and was made to look as much like stone as possible. Company advertisements boasted of new glazes with names like “Granitex” that replicated the texture and color of granite and other natural stones. The New York Architectural Terra Cotta Co., manufacturer of St. Aloysius’ terra cotta, was established in 1886 by Orlando B. Potter (with Asahel Clarke Geer) after his experience in the construction of his Potter Building (1883-86, Norris G. Starkweather), 35-38 Park Row,20 which used extensive architectural terra cotta. The only major architectural terra cotta firm in New York City, it became one of the largest such American manufacturers, producing ornament for such notable structures as Carnegie Hall (1889-91, William B. Tuthill), Montauk Club (1889-91, Francis H. Kimball), West End Collegiate Church and School (1892-93, Robert W. Gibson), Ansonia Hotel (1899-1904, Paul E.M. Duboy), and Plaza Hotel (1905-07, Henry Hardenbergh).21 The company’s factory was located in Long Island City. The New York Architectural Terra Cotta Co. lasted until bankruptcy in 1932. The Grueby Faience Co., manufacturer of St. Aloysius’ celadon-colored glazed brick, was established in Boston in 1894 by William Henry Grueby. Apprenticed as a boy (1880-90) with the eminent J. & J.G. Low Art Tile Works, in 1891 Grueby formed the partnership of [Eugene R.] Atwood & Grueby, which manufactured architectural ceramics and glazed bricks. Grueby Faience became most noted for its matte green glaze, introduced in 1897. Though the company’s art pottery was highly prized, tile production was the main source of its revenue. In 1898, two separate divisions were created -- the Grueby Pottery Co., for the manufacture of art pottery, and the Grueby Faience Co., for architectural faience. After Grueby Faience went bankrupt in 1909, William Grueby established the Grueby Faience & Tile Co., which manufactured architectural faience and tiles until 1919, when the firm was purchased by Calvin Pardee of Perth Amboy, N.J.22 19
St. Aloysius, as a relatively small parish church on a mid-block site in Harlem, did not receive much notice in the contemporary architectural press, despite the provenance of the Renwick firm. It was, however, favorably reviewed by the noted architectural critic Montgomery Schuyler. He wrote that “it is one of the innumerable oddities in the vicissitudes of fashion that there should be in New York so few examples of the mediaeval art of Italy,”23 such as the Italian Gothic Revival style New York Academy of Design (1862, Peter B. Wight; demolished) and several churches by Jacob Wrey Mould, including All Souls Church (1852; demolished). Schuyler compared St. Aloysius with the earlier Italian Gothic Revival style Church of All Saints, also by the Renwick firm, calling St. Aloysius “a more recent and less pretentious church in the same style [and] at least equally successful.” He praised its architectural solution, as a mid-block church which required side clerestory windows, as well as its decorative scheme, color, and terra cotta, writing:
But how many solutions of it do we find better than this, or as good? A rich front, of which the enrichment is produced by modifications of form, but still more by applications of color, a front quite “blind,” except for the great wheel window, a sufficient and effective depth for the splayed jambs of the main central portal, and an undeniable effect of richness and refinement. Observe that the central gable is evidently an excrescence, the actual slope of the roof appearing in the coping of the aisle walls. ... Really, what better can you do with a church front which is only a front? It seems that the architect devised a still higher degree of enrichment by color for the central feature. ... For those interlaced arcades over the side doors and above the central portal one recalls no Italian precedent... but how effective they are as intricate enrichment! And the coloring is very effective also -- a ground of excellent rough red brick, banded with gray terra-cotta, set off between courses of green glazed brick,