Saint James’ Church
Saint James’ Church is a beautiful, historic Episcopal church located at 71st and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Unless otherwise noted, material in this gallery comes from a pamphlet available at the church: “A Self-Guided Walking Tour.”
“The history of St. James’ Church has been marked by three major themes: neighborhood, mission, and leadership. St. James’ was founded in 1810 as a summer chapel at what is now the southeast corner of 69th Street and Lexington Avenue and has remained a constant in an ever-developing neighborhood. Early rectors of St. James’ were actively involved in mission work in Yorkville, in Manhattanville, and in Washington Heights. In 1869 a new church was constructed on East 72nd Street and the church continued its outreach with a mission near Third Avenue. In 1884 a larger church was opened at the present site on 71st and Madison Avenue. A 1924 remodeling by Ralph Adams Cram created the church building that generations of worshippers now call home.
In the 1970s St. James’ began mission efforts in Harlem and internationally. The parish sponsored Carol Anderson, who in 1977 was ordained at St. James’ Church as the first woman priest in the Diocese of New York, setting a prominent example for the national Church. In the 1980s St. James’ extended outreach to Africa, supported Bishop Desmond Tutu against apartheid, and supported peace efforts in Northern Ireland. The parish now maintains worship and working relationships with Malawi and Haiti in addition to Southern Africa. In partnership with East Side religious and social service organizations, St. James’ provides assistance to the homeless and others in need.
In 1996, St. James’ called as rector the Rev. Brenda Husson, the first woman chosen to lead a parish of such prominence in the diocese. Under her leadership the parish has expanded its worship, music, mission and Christian formation activities in a fully renovated church and parish house, and celebrates its faithful past and unlimited future.
History of the Church Buildings
The First Church Building (1810-1869)
“Consecrated on May 17, 1810, the first church building was located on Hamilton Square (at the corner of present-day Lexington Avenue ad 69th Street). The building was a simple wooden structure with a capacity to hold perhaps up to 200 people, with double doors opening to the north beneath a tall bell tower.
The Second Church Building (1869-1884)
When the city eliminated Hamilton Square from the street grid, the old church building was in the path of Lexington Avenue. The new church building, designed by James Renwick (KB note-Renwick also designed Saint Patrick’s Cathedral) was constructed in the Victorian Gothic style on 72nd Street between Lexington and Third Avenues. Due to the limited resources of the growing parish, this structure was considered to be a temporary home.
The Third Church Building-First Version (1884-1924)
When the city continued to move northward and the parish and its resources has sufficiently grown, Robert H. Robertson was engaged to design a new church for St. James’ at the present 71st Street and Madison Avenue location. The brownstone exterior was executed in the Romanesque style with its main entrance on 71st Street. The interior of the church was oriented toward the west with the high altar in an apse situated on Madison Avenue. There were tall, narrow windows over the altar and all the side windows were smaller and shorter than those currently in place. The nave ended where the current chancel steps begin. Heavy beams in the ceiling were adorned with large carved angels at their ends.
The Third Church Building-Second Version (1924-present)
Having acquired land immediately to the east of the church building, the vestry wished to enlarge the existing structure to accommodate a larger congregation and change the principal entrance from 71st Street to Madison Avenue. Ralph Adams Cram, one of the great Gothic Revival architects, was engaged to substantially alter the original Robertson design, incorporating only the floor, walls and roof and adding a chancel on the newly-available eastern lots. The Madison Avenue apse was demolished to make way for the new entrance. The rusticated brownstone exterior walls were smoothed. The side walls were raised and the aisle roofs were made almost flat to accommodate higher, wider aisle windows. The original interior support columns were substantially filled out to give the effect of true Gothic supports. With the use of arches and applied columns and the addition of the new north-side chapel, Cram created the illusion of a cruciform transept. Most of the stained glass windows from the Robertson structure were removed and stored, sold or given away and replaced by windows executed by various stained glass studios under Cram’s direction.
In 1926 a Cram-designed square top to the bell tower was installed and subsequently replaced by the current spire, designed by Richard A. Kimbell in 1950. The current parish house was erected in 1938 and extensively renovated in 2003. In 1983 the chancel floor space was enlarged by the removal of two choir stalls, allowing greater flexibility in the worship space’s used. From 2002 through 2003, the original 1884 joisted masonry structure of the sanctuary floor was replaced by steel beams and resurfaced with stone and marble. The new columbarium was built in the base of the bell tower and dedicated in 2005.”
According to Wikipedia, Cram (1863-1942) was an influential American architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings, generally in the Gothic style. He had a dramatic conversion experience during a Christmas Eve mass in Rome in 1887; he practiced as a fervent Anglo-Catholic who identified as High Church Anglican, according to Wikipedia.
Cram and business partner Charles Wentworth started their architectural business in Boston in 1889. Bertram Goodhue joined the firm in 1892 to form Cram, Wentworth and Goodhue. Wentworth died in 1897 and the firm’s name changed to Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson. Cram and Goodhue complimented each other’s strengths at first, but an increasingly bitter rivalry led to the dissolution of the firm in 1912. As partners, the two would sometimes provide competing plans on a commission. Goodhue left the firm and started his own firm in 1913. Cram and Ferguson continued working on major church and college commissions through the 1930s.
Cram’s major church projects include Saint John the Divine Cathedral, Saint Thomas Church, Chapel at West Point Military Academy, and Saint James’ Church. Major collegiate buildings include the West Point Military Academy, Princeton University (supervising architect), Rice University (master plan and multiple buildings), Williams, Wellesley (consulting architect), Sweet Briar, University of Richmond, and the University of Southern California.
Cram was the head of the MIT School of Architecture in the 1920s. He was a household name in the 1920s and appeared on the cover of Time magazine on December 13, 1926.