Broadway by Fran Leadon

Broadway by Fran Leadon

Author:Fran Leadon
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

THE SEEDS OF Konkle’s notion had been sown almost a century earlier, when the Broadway Tabernacle opened a few blocks north of City Hall Park, on the east side of Broadway between Worth Street and Catherine Lane. Built in 1836 for the fiery abolitionist preacher Charles Grandison Finney, the Tabernacle was sold in 1840 to a group of Congregationalists, who expanded the church’s ministry until the Tabernacle became New York’s foremost cultural center. Every week the Tabernacle hosted lectures, concerts, demonstrations, and meetings, and in the decades leading up to the Civil War became the main gathering place for the antislavery movement; William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, and Frederick Douglass were all frequent guests. In 1841, Philip Hone called the Broadway Tabernacle the “omnium gatherum and hold-all of the city.”

The Tabernacle’s programming was remarkably diverse: Renowned Norwegian violinist Ole Bull performed there, but so did choirs of Five Points orphans and newsboys. In 1854 an ambivalent Ralph Waldo Emerson lectured at the Tabernacle to a packed house. (“I saw the great audience with dismay . . . ,” he wrote in his journal.) “I was most thankful to those who stayed at home.” Demonstrations of mesmerism, telepathy, phrenology, or electricity might be followed the next evening by a meeting of Spiritualists. (In 1857, golden-curled teenage Spiritualist Cora Hatch so captivated her Tabernacle audience that hardened, cynical Tammany Hall operative Isaiah Rynders broke down in tears.)

In 1857 the Tabernacle sold its old building and built a new church at the intersection of Broadway, Sixth Avenue, and 34th Street, then on the outskirts of town. By 1903 the neighborhood around the second Tabernacle had become the heart of Herald Square, and the church cashed in and moved again, this time to the northeast corner of Broadway and 56th Street, in the midst of a commercial district that was about to become the city’s Automobile Row. With each move the Tabernacle made a killing from the sale of its land, and with money to burn, pastor Charles Edward Jefferson, a social reformer in the Charles Henry Parkhurst mold, decided to build a deluxe church that was big enough to include spaces for all of the Tabernacle’s varied cultural and social programs.

The Tribune called Jefferson “puritanical,” but in the lead-up to World War I he was an outspoken peace advocate, and once the war began, he opened a canteen inside the Tabernacle to serve the city’s swelling ranks of soldiers and sailors. He was both a charismatic preacher and an avid baseball fan, and in his conception of the role of churches in the twentieth century was a liberal and thoroughly modern theologian.

“The church may be dead,” he declared, “but it is astounding how active the corpse is. It is doing a thousand more things dead than it ever tried to do in the days of its most abundant vitality.”

Jefferson wanted the new Tabernacle to include not only a spacious auditorium for meetings but also lecture halls, theaters, offices, workshops, lounges, a Sunday school, and a museum.


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