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Trinity Baptist Church
250 East 61st Street
Fifteen men and nineteen women met under the leadership of Captain R.E. Jeanson at to form The First Swedish Baptist Church of New York on December 22, 1867. The congregation served the Sweedish immigrant community and initially worshipped at Mariner's Church near the docks in lower Manhattan, moving uptown to the Colgate Chapel on 20th Street in 1884. The congregation purchased the first building of their own on 27th Street in 1893, moving to a larger building on 55th street in 1899. In a time much like the beginning of the 21st Century, New York in the 1920s was undergoing a building boom and the church decided to sell their aging midtown building to developers and build this structure on the Upper East Side.
This new structure was designed by Martin Gravely Hedmark and was dedicated on January 21, 1931. The lavish Art Deco ornamentation makes this building fairly unique in a city where religious buildings tend to be either in classical Gothic or Romanesque styles that reflect a stability of theology, in modernist trappings that seemed to be grasping for relevance in an increasingly secular world, or in numerous non-descript storefront micro-congregations that echo the grassroots origin of the early Christian church.
However, the ornamentation is more than mere eye candy, expressing both congregational history and scriptural symbolism within the Art Deco language. The Church's Swedish roots are seen in its black granite cornerstones and a Baltic Gothic facade that is topped with replicas of Nordic bell towers. In a distinctive Art Deco touch rarely seen in subsequent eras, the facade's brickwork is clearly graduated in hue from a dark maroon on the bottom to a light beige at the top (which is difficult to photograph due to the church's location on the south side of the block). Inside, the traditional square American Baptist worship space is adorned with frescoes, stained glass, Orrefors crystal, carved and inlaid wood, hammered black iron, and numerous other Art Deco details that are described on the Church's website. When I visited the church for an Easter service in 2008, the church's vocal team used the two wide staircases flanking the pulpit area to excellent effect. Steel-frame construction permitted full use of the fairly small lot to create a surprisingly large sanctuary, topped with a light-transmitting dome.
For those who love Art Deco, it's worth a visit to a service, even if you don't share the fairly conservative viewpoint of the current congregants.
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