Beautifully engraved certificate from the Manhattan Towers
issued in 1928. This historic document was printed by Broun Green Company and has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of George Washington. This item has the signatures of the Company's President and Secretary and is over 78 years old. over 30 coupons attached.
THINGS looked bright in 1927 for the Manhattan Congregational Church when its pastor, the Rev. Edward H. Emett, announced plans for a new sanctuary below a 600-room skyscraper hotel at Broadway and 76th Street. The plans were realized, but within a decade Emett had been fired, the congregation disbanded and the building auctioned for a tenth of its original $2.1 million cost. Now work crews are making extensive repairs to the building's facade.
The Manhattan Congregational Church was organized in the 1890's, and in 1901 it built a broad, lacy, Parisian-style house of worship on the east side of Broadway between 76th and 77th Street, designed by the architects Stoughton & Stoughton, who had also done the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at 89th Street and Riverside Drive.
The completion of the subway up Broadway in 1904 brought a new wave of development, and after 1920 other, older churches began selling their valuable Broadway frontage and retreating to less visible side streets.
In 1927, according to an article in The New York Times, Emett announced that his church had also been considering moving but that instead it would ''stay at the old stand and attend to business.'' He told of plans for a 23-story hotel with a new sanctuary on ground level. Before coming to the Manhattan Congregational Church around 1920, Emett had served in parishes in St. Louis and Ontario, and then had worked for the evangelist Billy Sunday. His parishioners included the Rev. Arthur C. McGiffert, a former president of the Union Theological Seminary.
Emett said that the building would offer rooms to tenants ''who are in accord with the high principles for which a church stands'' and that it would lease only to stores that agreed to close on Sundays. The hotel would be operated by a separate company, Manhattan Towers Inc., which would pay the church $20,000 a year in rent.
Two cornerstones were laid in November 1929 -- one for the new building, and the one salvaged from the 1901 church. The congregation had originally considered a completely unornamented design, but the completed building, opened in 1930, had a distinctly ecclesiastical air.
The architects Tillion & Tillion trimmed the upper stories with Gothic-style details, put a large cross atop the tower and developed an elaborate neo-Gothic screen at the lower floors, centered on the church's main entrance.
The hotel, named Manhattan Towers, had 626 rooms on the upper floors, with a lounge, coffee shop, grill room, card room and barber shop, and a dance floor in the basement. The church, with an entrance next door, had a three-story-high sanctuary seating 550 people, with huge sweeping arches and Gothic-style decoration.
In April 1930 the hotel had just opened when a census taker recorded only 27 residents, among them Millard Lazarus, 50, a dress salesman and Sophie Seeley, 60, a social worker for the blind. About half the occupants had been born in New York City, but others were from Connecticut, Indiana, Texas, Poland, France or Russia. Census records indicate they were each paying $50 to $60 a month.
In 1930 The Times wrote that Emett deplored the ''modern jazz mind'' and had said that people should read the Bible. ''The family altar has been torn down,'' he said.
BY 1931, Manhattan Towers Inc. had gone out of business and the building was in receivership. The church said that it had not received $120,000 in rent and other expenses.
In April the church filed suit in State Supreme Court saying that Emett had been misappropriating church funds since 1928 and had continually evaded process servers who sought to present him a summons regarding the suit; he lived on the premises.
The Times visited the church in December 1933 and contrasted a sign still on the door -- ''This is a friendly church with a human touch -- welcome!'' -- with the locked doors. The church was closed.
Adelaide Doane, chairman of the church's board, said that Emett had conspired with a new owner of the building, the Commonwealth Bond Corporation, to lock the congregation out, perhaps because he had been secretly fired by the church's trustees early in the year. ''We stood him as long as we could,'' Mrs. Doane said. A few days before Christmas the building was sold at auction for $200,000.
In April 1934 Emett still had not filed an accounting with the court, but it is not clear if any charges were ever brought against him. An evangelist took over the sanctuary space on a short-term basis, and in 1935 the pews and organ were still being claimed by representatives of the church. The Manhattan Congregational Church was dissolved a few years later.
At some later point much of the lacy Gothic-style ornament over the entrance was removed. In 1938 the building was put up for auction but drew no bids, and in 1943 the city took it over for back taxes of $420,000.
The next year 200 Waves moved into rooms on five floors, and the building was used for Navy housing until 1946. Emett had remained in New York City, and early in 1949 he suggested tearing down the White House in Washington and selling fragments as souvenirs, to raise $4 million to build an entirely new residence for President Harry S. Truman. Emett died later that year.
BY 1973 the building was an S.R.O., with many residents welfare recipients. The next year a new owner evicted two-thirds of its occupants and changed the name to the Hotel Opera after a $1 million alteration that created about 110 units. The building, now called the Opera Apartments, became a co-op around 1980.
The Promenade, an Off Broadway theater, now occupies most of the old church sanctuary. The Broadway side includes the entrance to the co-op, as well as a Japanese restaurant and the Promenade.
Repair teams are working all over the facade of the building, which has an L-shaped wing facing 76th Street. The co-op's managing agent, Lawrence Properties, and Anton Cirulli, director of operations, said that the project involves routine -- but extensive -- facade work, and that the stone on the lower floors is being cleaned.
On Broadway the two cornerstones mark the church's original aspirations. One is dated 1929 and labeled Manhattan Towers; the other is dated 1901, from the original church. They are among the few traces left of this church and its architectural ambitions.
History from Wikipedia.