Sacred Sites of New York

New York has a magnificent collection of historic religious architecture from all denominations. For the past 30 years, the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s award-winning Sacred Sites program has helped congregations maintain and restore these iconic buildings. Sacred Sites is the only state-wide initiative of its kind in the country. During the past three decades, the program has disbursed $9.3 million in grants to 750 congregations, helping to fund 1,350 restoration projects.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Sacred Sites program five years ago, the Conservancy inaugurated a statewide Sacred Sites Open House. The Conservancy invited religious institutions from Buffalo to Brooklyn to East Hampton to open their doors to the public, introducing visitors to extraordinary art, architecture, and history, as well as the range of social service and cultural programs many of these buildings house.

This year’s Sacred Sites Open House takes place May 21 and 22. Since its inception, the program has flourished—with the 2015 weekend drawing 3,000-plus visitors. Faith & Form has been a sponsor of the weekend since 2012, as has the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Historic Buildings Committee.

As part of this year’s 30th anniversary celebration, the Conservancy is hosting a Manhattan lecture series of particular interest to architects and design professionals. On April 7, 2016, at 6 pm architectural historian David Garrard Lowe will present an illustrated talk titled “Where Angels Tread: New York’s Wondrous Houses of Worship,” at St. Jean Baptiste at Lexington and 76th Streets. On May 3 at 6 pm there will be an interfaith panel discussion on the importance of religious architecture, at Park East Synagogue, on 68th between Lexington and Third Avenues.

The early inspiration for the Sacred Sites program came from the diverse stock of historic religious structures in New York located in highly varied surroundings: on a block of brownstones in Brooklyn, among the skyscrapers of Manhattan, or set on a village green in the Catskill Mountains. Many of these buildings represent outstanding achievements in architecture of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

These structures were developed by congregations who wanted to create the most beautiful buildings they could afford. The names of the building designers include significant American architects including: Arnold W. Brunner, Carrere and Hastings, Ralph Adams Cram, Alexander Jackson Davis, Leopold Eidlitz, Henry Fernbach, Ernest Flagg, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, Richard Morris Hunt, Minard Lafever, James Renwick, Emery Roth, Richard Upjohn, Stanford White, and many others. These architects sought out preeminent designers like Maitland Armstrong, James Bolton, John La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany to enhance interior spaces with luminous stained glass, vibrant mosaics, magnificent carved stonework, finely crafted ecclesiastical furniture, polychromatic painted walls and intricate ironwork.

However, the passage of time caused many magnificent houses of worship to suffer, Congregations often lacked f resources or technical expertise. To help address this, the Landmarks Conservancy launched the Sacred Sites program in 1986. The program has helped buildings with distinguished architecture as well as modest structures. Sacred Sites grants have had an outsized impact, helping historic religious properties complete restoration work totaling more than $600 million.

In addition to funding, the Conservancy also offers technical assistance. Highly trained staff makes site visits to help assess a project’s specific needs and can link congregations to experienced architects and contractors. In some cases, staff also serves as project advisors, offering assistance with requests for proposals, budgets, grant applications, local and state design review approvals and more. The Conservancy and the Sacred Sites program are an excellent resource for architects and design professionals, not only in providing referrals but also offering matching grants to fund their work.

Along with restoration came ideas on how to repurpose buildings, expanding their usage in new, creative ways that maximize their impact on todays’ communities. Today’s religious buildings also serve as sites for education, food pantries, and 12-Step programs as well as spaces for theater and music programs and even summer camps.

The 2016 Sacred Sites Open House will again showcase the legacy of religious buildings around New York State, helping safeguard their futures for people to worship in, be inspired by and draw sustenance from for generations to come. Information on participating sites and schedules is available at www.nylandmarks.org.