Helpern Architects is honored to be doing the restoration, renovation, and modernization of the venerable Marble Collegiate Church. This project increases the longevity of the structure and interiors without changing historic elements attributed to the church’s original architect, Samuel A. Warner.
The work is to stabilize and insulate the roof, restore the Sanctuary’s ceiling, reorganize and enlarge the church’s underused Concourse level, and modernize the heating and air conditioning system. Marble gains a new chapel, permanent labyrinth for walking meditation in a room to be used as an event space, and columbarium. By the Christmas 2011 holidays, the Sanctuary will be finished, and the balance of the project will be completed in early 2012.
The 21,000-sf landmarked church – constructed in 1854 on Fifth Avenue and 29th Street – is of early Romanesque Revival style with Gothic trim. The façade of the building is smooth white Tuckahoe marble – yes, at the time there was a marble quarry just upstate – which gives the church its name.
The Collegiate Church Corporation hired Helpern Architects in 1999 to undertake the master plan to improve the church and its adjacent administrative building. An extensive inspection of the building preceded the reconstruction, which began in earnest in early 2010.
The ceiling of the 900-seat Sanctuary needed conservation. It is being retied to its lath and will receive plaster repairs and decorative painting over the whole surface. New sprinklers and a fire alarm system are part of the work; threading this invisibly through Marble’s old infrastructure, then matching the sprinkler caps to the ceiling color, is challenging.
The main feature of the Concourse level is a new marble-walled, small (70-seat) chapel with light-colored wood pews. A new adjacent multi-function room will have a permanent labyrinth – used for prayer and reflection – inlaid in terrazzo on the floor. Excavation on both sides of the church’s structure has made room for equipment and an expanded columbarium.
Temporary steel beams added below grade ensure the integrity of the historic structure during excavation and reconstruction. Synthetic slate shingles acceptable to the NYC Landmarks Commission replace an asphalt roof from prior repairs, which has also received its first-ever insulation. “Sister” steel trusses added on either side of the original wood trusses stabilize the roof, so now the wood trusses support only the ceiling below.
Marble Collegiate Church is the oldest place of worship of the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York, organized in 1628. It was built beyond the then city limits, and an iron fence that surrounds the building was needed to keep livestock out.
Today, thousands of ribbons affixed to the fence honor those who have died in the war in Iraq. Known as “America’s Hometown Church,” Marble first reached national recognition when Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the famous author of The Power of Positive Thinking, served as senior minister from 1932-1984. His hand-picked successor, Dr. Arthur Caliandro, now Minister Emeritus, initiated the restoration project. Dr. Michael B. Brown is currently the Senior Minister of Marble’s progressive and diverse congregation, one of the largest in New York City.
Of the four Collegiate Churches in New York City, Helpern Architects is restoring two. The other is Ft. Washington Collegiate Church in Washington Heights, in northern Manhattan.