Architect: Richard Upjohn
Location: 79 Broadway
The first Trinity Church (1698) burned in the Great Fire of 1776, which was apt (if not pleasant) given its connections to the Loyalist cause; the second was replaced awfully tardily (1790), had a good forty-year run until it was pulled down on purpose on account of heavy snows. So this is the third. The picture’s abstract, sure, but you know what it looks like. It’s the dark eminence at the end of Wall Street, God’s vacation home in the land of Mammon. Comprehend its shadows and you comprehend the building: the church is a signpost for the windswept Romanticism of the Gothic Revival, coming into in its own in America at this time, with its emphasis on natural passion and irration, great contrasts of darkness and light, both on building facades and in men’s souls. But for all its buttresses and crocketing and ogive, its authenticity — that is, its likeness to those spooky old churches in Europe once called Gothic as a slur — does not go all the way. Its massing is symmetrical. It’s faced with brownstone, something the Europeans didn’t know. In fact, it’s not even made entirely of stone: the ceiling is made of wood and plaster. In other words, it makes concessions to the rational and the pragmatic. Why these half-measures? Was New York too damned practical? (Too damned money-driven?) Or wasn’t pure, true Gothic sort of redundant in New York once the city passed a certain threshold of size and complexity? Didn’t it feel impossibly old even when it was actually rather young? Wasn’t it already filled with extremes of light and shade in every imaginable sense?