The Midblock Churches of Harlem

These strangely situated places of worship were designed to be read in close proximity and relationship to their neighbors.

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church on 134th Street Courtesy New York Landmarks Preservation Commission

In New York, corner lots connote status. While the city is full of churches clad in European garb, there are few piazzas, squares, and plazas to frame them, as there would be in, say, Rome or Amsterdam. Instead, New York offers parishes and congregations the corner lot. Think of First Baptist on West 79th and Broadway; Church of the Heavenly Rest on East 90th and Fifth Avenue; Grace Church on East Tenth and Broadway; St. Patrick’s Cathedral spans the full block between East 50th and 51st on Fifth Avenue. The larger and more prominent a church’s site, the more corners its address accrues: St. John the Divine is located between West 110th, West 113th, Amsterdam Avenue, and Morningside Drive.

For newer congregations and those with limited resources—often serving minority or immigrant communities—the corner lot simply isn’t an option. Such might have been the case in Harlem for three of the city’s most prominent Black churches: St. Philip’s Episcopal (204 West 134th Street), Abyssinian Baptist Church (132 West 138th Street), and Mother African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Z…

Login or create an account to read three free articles and receive our newsletter.

from $5/month