Grace Church: A Careful and Artful Restoration

Architectural rendering of the interior of Grace Church, Library of Congress

Architectural rendering of the interior of Grace Church, Library of Congress

Building: Grace Church

Architect: James Renwick, Jr.

Location: Broadway and 10th Street, Manhattan, New York City

Design and Construction: Grace Church was architect James Renwick’s very first project, a commission he received at the young age of 23. The building committee of the Episcopal Archdiocese of New York selected Renwick to design a French Gothic Revival place of worship which was to be located in downtown Manhattan. According to church history, Renwick "had never so much as seen a Gothic church, much less built one…. [but] he would ransack every book he could lay hold of to determine what such a church looked like."

Grace Church is located at Broadway and 10th Street, Manhattan, photo depicts the marble spire, Library of Congress

Grace Church is located at Broadway and 10th Street, Manhattan, photo depicts the marble spire, Library of Congress

Renwick’s cruciform-plan design resembled many of the Gothic structures of Europe and his building was much simpler than what exists today:  The spire was wooden and the stained glass throughout the building was plainer and only lightly tinted. Construction took roughly four years and the church opened its doors on March 7, 1846.  Forty years later, the church acquired additional funds and replaced the wooden spire with a 230-foot marble spire. The church glasswork was eventually updated with vibrant colors and rich iconography.

Landmark Status: Grace Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. The structure was also designated a New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in March of 1966.

Grace Church today, image courtesy Walter B. Melvin Architects, six images at end of post courtesy Walter B. Melvin Architects

Grace Church today, image courtesy Walter B. Melvin Architects, six images at end of post courtesy Walter B. Melvin Architects

A Building in Restoration, Walter B. Melvin Architects: 1993 — Present

The spire of Grace Church, image courtesy Jack Amick

The spire of Grace Church, image courtesy Jack Amick

In the 1990s, it was discovered that the church’s 230-foot spire had come several inches out of plumb, posing a real danger to church and its neighbors. Under the masterful direction of historic preservation firm Walter B. Melvin Architects (this firm is also presently completing extensive structural review of the Smallpox Hospital ruins), the church realized that a key portion of the spire, whose internal support is a vertical metal rod running its entire height with ties to the marble through a series of horizontal steel plates, had weakened and was giving way. This was made visible by the "sugaring of the stones," or the powdery rock dust that was created when the marble blocks inversely rubbed against each other.

Stone-by-stone, the Walter Melvin team meticulously disassembled the top 25 feet of the spire and precisely recreated and replaced portions of the faulty (and rusted) internal structural system. For the marble stones that had crumbled beyond repair, the team carved new stones in-situ and returned them to their original position. 

The Walter Melvin team keeps a careful eye on the landmark building and continually reviews and takes great effort to conserve it. They recently oversaw the rebuilding of the original Tuckahoe marble window tracery and restoration of many of the historic stained glass windows.

The building celebrated its 170th anniversary on March 7, 2016.