Places that Matter

Washington Square United Methodist Church (former)

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Marina Gan
Marina Gan
Marina Gan
A church known for its 1960's political activism, whose congregation is now part of The Church of the Village
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Note: the congregation moved from this building to another site in 2004, and the building is now residential.

Built in 1860 by wealthy Greenwich Village residents, the Washington Square United Methodist Church (WSUMC) is both a distinctive architectural space and, for over 50 years, a site of political and social activism in its community.

Originally founded in 1842 as the Sullivan Street Methodist Episcopal Church, by the 1850s the WSUMC's trustees were eager for a new home for their growing congregation. They chose the area around Washington Square--one of the city's most prestigious residential areas at the time--as the site for their new church. The architect selected to design the church, Gamalieh King, was a bit more adventurous than the location, as he was known primarily for his commercial structures. However, King was well known to the Cornell brothers, who were trustees of the church and owners of Cornell Iron Works, a leading foundry of structural iron for New York City buildings.

The church designed by King was considerably more elaborate than the typical plain Methodist chapel of the day. Romanesque Revival in style, King integrated a number of decorative details including a balcony supported by graceful cast iron arches--thought to be the first use of cast iron in a church. Few changes have been made to King's original design over the years other than the addition of art nouveau stained glass windows in the late 19th century, and the replacement of a small pipe organ with a grand 28-rank version in 1901. The church is part of New York City's Greenwich Village Historic District.