About Our Parish
When Mayor Hugh J. Grant founded the Tammany Hall-connected Narragansett Club, a Demoncratic political organization, a clubhouse as its upper west side headquarters was necessary. Land was purchased at 307 W. 54th Street and a Romanesque Revival style building with American Queen Anne touches was erected on the lot. For his two-story, red brick structure over an English basement the architect added a pressed-metal cornice board, terra cotta ornamentation and bold numerals below the eave announcing the construction date, 1886.
Three years later on January 6, 1889, the group threw a celebration of its third anniversary. Mayor Grant was in attendance as was “every Tammany man of consequence.” The New York Times reported that “They were entertained with songs, instrumental music, exhibitions of ventriloquial skill, and speeches.” Senator Ives concocted an apparently strong punch for the event. “Everybody had a good time,” said The Times,” but those who looked least at the seductive punch bowl feel the better to-day.”
In addition to its occasional celebrations, the clubhouse was the site of conventions and nominations of candidates for the 14th Congressional District. On October 5, 1896 John Quincy Adams, who was “related to the well-known Massachusetts family of that name,” was unanimously nominated to run.
Almost 20 years to the day after building their clubhouse,on January 5, 1906, the Tammany club sold it to the New Amsterdam Council of the Knights of Columbus. The heavily-Irish group, which promised to make “extensive alterations to the property,” renamed it The New Amsterdam Building.
With the Knights of Columbus came evenings of serious discussion and debate. Irishman James P. Conway, a student of Irish literature, attempted to defend John Millington Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World, here on January 24, 1912. The Knights, many of whom had participated in the riots following the play’s debut in New York, jeered him for an hour. Michael Conway, a former member of Parliament, countered Conway and was carried by the crowd from the stage in triumph.
In March of 1912 the Reverend Terence J. Shealy discussed the ills of Socialism and, on January 15, 1913 Mayor Gaynor addressed the group regarding new issues in the city: subway construction, elevation of the freight train tracks on 10th Avenue (known today as the High Line), and the lengthening the Hudson River piers to accommodate the new ships.
By the Spring of 1915 the building was the home of the Century Road Club Association, a cycling club that not only participated in bicycle races, but also used the clubhouse for dances and “amateur night” talent contents.
It was during the Great Depression the building became an “old calendar” Greek Orthodox Church – “one of a group of churches that split off from the mainline church over a dispute regarding adoption of the western calendar,” according to Fr. James W. Kordaris, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. At this time it was also home to the Epirus Hellenic Centre. In December 1933 a one-man show by Alexander Sideris exhibited oils and water colors of still-lifes, portraits, florals, and Greek villages and coast vistas.
In the early 1950s the church came under the Greek Orthodox Archiocese of America and today the little building remains so. Saint George Greek Orthodox Church conducts services in Greek and English in a space encrusted with murals and icons. Were it not for the flat ceiling the visitor might never suspect the building was not originally intended as a church. An exquisite iconastasis dominates the space. In the foyer under the floor mat, according to Fr. Kordaris, the Knights of Columbus monogram KC survives in the tilework.
Little has changed to the façade since 1886 other than the cross on the eaves and the stained glass window that replaces the original. The little building whose “joyous ornament is still evident,” according to the AIA Guide to New York City, is a delightful surprise on West 54th Street.
Compiled by Tom Miller, http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2011/01/st-george-greek-orthodox-church-307-w.html