Commission Approves Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Morningside Heights Historic District

(New York, NY)- The Landmarks Preservation Commission today unanimously approved the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and the Cathedral Close, and the 115-building Morningside Heights Historic District and Manhattan, citing their architectural, historic and cultural significance. In conjunction with today’s designation of the Morningside Heights Historic District, the agency launched a 3-D webmap providing users with detailed information about the buildings comprising New York City’s newest landmark district. Today’s designations bring to 141 the total number of historic districts in all five boroughs, and to 1398 the number of individual landmarks in New York City.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Cathedral Close


One of the largest churches in the world, Cathedral of St. John the Divine serves as the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The designated complex consists of the Cathedral Church and the six buildings that form the Close, including the Leake & Watts Orphan Asylum building, St. Faith’s House, the Choir School, Synod House, the Deanery, and the Bishops House. The designated complex is considered to be one of the most outstanding ecclesiastical ensembles in the city.


“The Cathedral is among the most famous church buildings in the world and is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year who want to experience this 125-year-old masterpiece and complex with its varied and unique architectural styles,” said Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. “I’m very proud that this Commission has advanced the successful designation of both the Cathedral building and six historic buildings in the Close complex, and has finally ensured the protection of this outstanding ensemble.”

The Cathedral was commissioned in 1873 under the leadership of Bishop Horatio Potter. In 1891, the architectural firm of Heins & LaFarge won an architectural competition with a design for the church that incorporated elements of the Romanesque, Byzantine, and Gothic styles. The first phase of construction began in 1892 with the laying of the cornerstone, and continued to 1911, when the crypt, choir, and crossing were completed. A second construction phase in a new French Gothic design began in 1916 and continued until 1941. During this period, the nave was completed and joined to the choir by a rough-finished crossing, the imposing west front was added, and the north transept was begun. A third phase of construction in 1979 resumed work on the towers of the west front. Although the Cathedral is presently unfinished, it remains one of the largest churches in the world, rising to a height of 124 feet, and an entire length of 601 feet.

One building of the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum, which originally occupied the entire site of the complex, was retained and is part of the designated Close. Designed by Ithiel Town and built by Samuel Thomson in 1838-42, it is the oldest building in Morningside Heights and one of the most significant surviving examples of a Greek Revival style institutional building in New York City.

The Collegiate Gothic style St. Faith’s House (1909-11) was built as the home of the New York Training School for Deaconesses, founded in 1890. The Choir School (1912-13), also designed in the Collegiate Gothic style, was founded in 1901 to educate boys who would sing in the Cathedral choir. Synod House (1912-14) was inspired by French and Spanish Gothic design and was built specifically to host the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1913.

Morningside Heights Historic District


The new district consists of 115 residential and institutional buildings in an area stretching from West 109th Street to West 119th Street, Riverside Drive to Amsterdam Avenue.


Like much of the Upper West Side, the earliest residential development in the proposed district includes private town houses such as 625-627 West 113th Street (1897-98) and speculative rows such as 604-616 West 114th Street (1896) that were built in the 1890s. However, it was the arrival of the IRT subway in 1904 with stops at 110th and 116th Streets that spurred development and rapidly transformed the area into a neighborhood of apartment buildings marketed to the middle class.

“The Morningside Heights Historic District reflects of a rapid period of residential development that took place in this area of Manhattan during the first decades of the 20th century,” said Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. “The handsome pre-war apartment buildings create stunning streetscapes along Riverside Drive, Cathedral Parkway and Claremont Avenue, while earlier townhouses and flats buildings enhance the intimacy of the side streets.”

“Morningside Heights is defined by its history more so than almost any other neighborhood in New York City,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “Its status as a bastion of public institutions dates from two centuries ago, and today Morningside Heights is home to more world-class academic, cultural, religious, and medical institutions than any neighborhood in America. The neighborhood’s unique architectural identity has survived remarkably intact into the 21st Century, and that must be preserved for the decades to come. I am proud to join the countless residents of Morningside Heights who have responded with overwhelming support for this proposal, and look forward to seeing this long awaited designation come to fruition for our community.”

Within the boundaries of the district, 64% of the buildings were built between 1900 and 1910. Wide streets such as Riverside Drive, Cathedral Parkway, West 116th Street and Claremont Avenue are lined with impressive apartment buildings such as the Paterno (1909-10) and the Colosseum (1910) with their rounded facades framing the view up West 116th Street from Riverside Drive; while the narrower streets have smaller apartment and flats buildings, row houses and club buildings. In addition to the residential buildings there are several institutional buildings included in the district, among which are the Broadway Presbyterian Church (1911-12, Louis A. Jallade) and the West Side Unitarian Church (now Congregation Ramath Orah) (1921-22, Hoppin & Koen).

The distinctive character of the Morningside Heights Historic District was created by some of New York City’s most prolific apartment house architects of the early 20th century such as Gaetano Ajello, George & Edward Blum, Neville & Bagge, and, in particular, Schwartz & Gross.

As a complement to the designation, the Commission launched a digital 3-D webmap of the district. Within a 3-D environment, users can pan, zoom and rotate around the Morningside Heights neighborhood, as well as focus on specific areas of interest within the historic district. Users can also click on buildings in the district to activate pop-up windows providing detailed building information, current images, and historic tax photos.

“We’re very excited to launch the agency’s first 3-D Historic District Map and hope that it will be not only a wonderful educational resource for all New Yorkers, but also a tool to aid the new stewards of our city’s historic buildings during the LPC application process,” said Chair Srinivasan.