Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan’

In the documentary The Tao of 9 Second Avenue, architect John Shuttleworth states that the Church of All Nations “was always a community-oriented building…[cutting] across ethnic boundaries.” He continues to recount that it inherited a “great history of community service,” beginning in 1874 when the Germania Assembly Rooms occupied the site at 9 Second Avenue, then alternatively known as 291 Bowery.

Germania Manhattan Guide

Excerpt from ‪The Manhattan Guide‬: ‪Greater New York Red Book‬.

The Germania Assembly Rooms, which are included in The Manhattan Guide’s list of the public halls of greater New York, functioned primarily as a settlement house for German immigrants. In his King’s How to See New York: A Complete Trustworthy Guide Book, Moses King calls the institution “a dance and meeting hall.” The Telegraph Herald adds that members of the Arion Singing Society used the Germania Assembly Rooms as a communal space.

King's Germania

Excerpt from King’s How to See New York: A Complete Trustworthy Guide Book.

By the early twentieth century Hadley Rescue Hall and Wesley Rescue Hall occupied the site, with 293 Bowery as their addresses. Members of the Church of All Nations ran the halls, providing food, shelter, and religious support to “destitute” and “outcast” locals in the Bowery. The Christian Advocate in particular details the Wesley Rescue Hall’s rehabilitation of over 15,000 men and solicits donations of clothing and shoes for its members. The New York Charities Directory lists Hadley Rescue Hall as a place where “drunkards and criminals of both sexes are welcome and assistance is given when necessary.”

After its official opening at 9 Second Avenue on February 15, 1923, the Church of All Nations continued to provide services to the local community. Many interviewees in The Tao of 9 Second Avenue echo Shuttleworth’s comments, noting that the Church accepted and embraced people of all races and religions. Members could attend religious services in its chapel, which were given in Polish, Chinese, Russian, and English. According to Judy Sutula, a local synagogue even used the chapel for its Passover celebrations.

NY Charities Directory

Excerpt from The New York Charities Directory .

The New York Charities Directory chronicles other activities hosted by the  “settlement house,” including the Church’s English, Yiddish, Italian, Chinese, Russian, and German events. It also offered educational classes and kindergarten for young children in addition to gymnastics and sewing school. The Church’s “Fresh Air Fund vacations,” funded completely through donation, sent city children on free summer getaways in June, July, and August.

In 1951 the New York Times advertised free puppet shows and demonstrations hosted by the Church’s Pioneer Youth Camp Program. Older Church of All Nations members could take part in theatre performances, which were either presented as part of the works division of the Department of Public Welfare or held as fundraisers for the Church.


Church of All Nations members in their athletic uniforms. Photograph courtesy of Gloria Weilandis.

Local athletics clubs, like the Chinese Athletic Club and the Young People’s Christian Foundation, used the building’s sports facilities for friendly games. A rent-control station opened in the Church in 1947, allowing Lower East Side tenants to get information about their landlords and apply for rent reductions.


Excerpt from “‪RISE IN MILK PRICE TO BE FOUGHT HERE; Consumers’ Protective Group Calls Public Meeting for Oct. 11 to Plan Action‬” article in the New York Times.

The Church of All Nations also served as a forum where local residents could voice their opinions and exchange ideas about particular issues. In 1928 Russian members attended a speech on Christianity, communism, and materialism hosted by the Reverend Dr. Timothy Peshkoff, the Church’s Russian pastor. Union laborers on strike over low WPA wage scales gathered in the building in 1935 to send a telegram to Mayor LaGuardia refusing to return to work. When the price of milk increased by half a cent in 1939, the Consumers’ Protective Group called a public meeting and planned a protest in the Church’s auditorium.

photo (1)

Image of the Church of All Nations taken in February 1967. Photograph courtesy of Gloria Weilandis.

The Church of All Nations was not the only institution committed to community service in Manhattan in the early part of the twentieth century. Much like other organizations listed in The Manhattan Guide and The New York Charities Directory, it supplied essential social, health, and religious services to local residents. The Church of All Nations also provided its members with a space to form and strengthen communal bonds, which permanently ceased with the building’s demolition in 2005.

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There are many surprising ways in which issues with the water supply have altered the path of New York City’s history. As the population exploded during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the water supply and its quality shaped the growth of urban development. Poor water supply systems created a constant threat of water-born diseases for early Manhattanites — in particular, yellow fever.  While Lower Manhattan (specifically Wall Street) has been America’s center of finance for over two centuries, for brief periods in the nineteenth century Greenwich Village housed bankers and businessmen (as well as many other New Yorkers) seeking to escape periodically vicious outbreaks of yellow fever.


Aaron Burr, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

After a particularly deadly outbreak of yellow fever in 1798, Aaron Burr along with his associates petitioned to create a private company that would supply the city with water from fresher and “safer” sources. The Manhattan Company was thereby created. However, it was actually Burr’s intention to use the company as a front in order to establish a bank — an immensely complicated undertaking in that era. A brief annotation to the Manhattan Company’s charter allowed for excess stock to be used “in the purchase of public stock or in any other monied transactions or operations not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Unfortunately, since the company’s main goal was to establish a bank, The Manhattan Company was slow and inept at creating a systematic and safe water supply for the city, and the outbreaks of yellow fever persisted.

The Bank of New York — the oldest bank in the United States and founded by Alexander Hamilton — started a trend of banks moving temporarily northward to escape yellow fever, galvanized by a clerk at the bank’s Wall Street headquarters contracting the disease during the 1798 outbreak. Subsequent epidemics in 1803, 1805, and 1822 pushed other banks, such as Bank of the Manhattan Company and Phenix Bank, to the same block of land inhabited by the temporary sanctuary of the Bank of New York. This cluster of businesses resulted in the naming of the strip “Bank Street,” which is still present today in the West Village.


The Bank of New York, watercolor by John William Hill, The Phelps Stokes Collection, New York Public Library

1822 marked the last great yellow fever outbreak in lower Manhattan. One 1823 report of the epidemic by Dr. Peter S. Townsend recalled “the timely and almost total abandonment of all that part of the city south of Fulton-street…”  One citizen described how “[f]rom daybreak till night, one line of carts, containing boxes, merchandize and effects, were seen moving towards Greenwich Village and the upper parts of the city.” However, business was soon as bustling as before in their temporary Greenwich Village retreat:

Within a few days thereafter, the Custom House, the Post Office, the Banks, the Insurance Offices, and the printers of Newspapers located themselves in the village… where they were free from the impending danger, and these places almost instantaneously became the seat of the immense business usually carried on, in this great metropolis.


Excerpt from James Hardie’s “An account of the yellow fever, which occurred in the city of New-York, in the year 1822”

The rustic appeal of Greenwich Village would not last much longer. By 1837, construction of the Croton Aqueduct would begin: soon the city would have an abundant and clean water supply and the yellow fever outbreaks would subside. Greenwich Village would thereafter become home to factories and tenements — a far cry from its bucolic beginnings. However, before this development, the village provided sanctuary to the citizens of lower Manhattan, and allowed New York bankers to continue business as usual.

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