Church Missions House, 281 Park Avenue South
Church Missions House is a historic building in Manhattan, located at 281 Park Avenue South, on the southeast corner of East 22nd Street, adjoining the property of Calvary Church, in the Gramercy Park area. The building was erected between 1892 and 1894 by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America to function as its headquarters.
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was formally organized in Philadelphia in 1789. The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society was founded in 1821, also in Philadelphia, to coordinate the church's growing missionary activities. In 1835, the institution moved its headquarters to rented offices in New York. In 1888, the Society formed a special committee to receive subscriptions and secure a site to construct a church missions house.
The original plot of ground to erect this building on the southeast corner of Forth Avenue (now Park Avenue South) and Twenty-second Street was secured in May, 1889. There was a four-story building on the place. It was a site with a 60 foot frontage on the east side of Fourth Avenue between Calvary Church, one of the city's largest Episcopal churches, and the building of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, on 22nd Street. In the spring of 1892, that building was purchased, extending the plot. The six-story Church Missions House occupy the entire plot, extending 80 feet on the Park Avenue and 70 feet on the 22nd Street.
The foundation stone was laid on October 3, 1892. The building opened its doors on New Year’s Day 1894, still unfinished. The formal dedication of the Church Missions House was held on January 25, 1894, the Festival of the Conversion of St. Paul. The original address was 281 Fourth Avenue. It changed to 281 Park Avenue South in 1959, when the section of the avenue, between 17th and 32nd Streets, was renamed.
The building was designed by Robert Williams Gibson and Edward J. Neville Stent, Associated Architects, in Flemish Renaissance style, with rock-faced granite, on the ground floor, and Indiana limestone in the stories above. It is topped by a steeply pitched hipped roof, framed in steel and capped with copper cresting. The interior of the Church Missions House has been largely altered.
The main entrance on Park Avenue is emphasized by a central porch in the form of an archway. The tympanum of the porch is set with a bas-relief, depicting scenes of ecclesiastical and historical interest. The spandrels of the entrance arch are filled with foliate carving.
Above the large rectilinear storefront windows on the ground floor rests a broad, delicate arcade which originally called attention to the main offices and rooms of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Here too the spandrels are filled with foliate carving.
In 1926, the Church Missions House was for sale due to financial difficulties, but it was not sold at the time.
In 1960, the Episcopal Church bought property on the northwest corner of East 43rd Street and Second Avenue, where a new building was constructed for its headquarters. In 1963, the Episcopal Church moved to its new offices at 815 Second Avenue. The same year, the Church Missions House was sold to the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. The FPWA had previously occupied rented space in the Church Missions House. The building was then renovated and reopened in December 1963 as the FPWA headquarters. The institution was founded in 1922 to coordinate the efforts of New York’s Protestant child care agencies through a committee of Protestants appointed by the Commissioner of Public Welfare in New York City.
In 1979, the building was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
In 1991, some architectural features of the building was restored to expose the original decoration, like the mosaic marble floors, the plaster-ornamented ceilings, the copper and terra cotta roof etc.
By April 2014, the Church Missions House was for sale again, according to WSJ. The joint venture of RFR Holding and HQ Capital Real Estate LP finalized their purchase in January 2015, for $50 million. The FPWA moved to 40 Broad Street where it occupied the 5th Floor of the building.
Later, Anna Sorokin unsuccessfully sought to lease Church Missions House for the Anna Delvey Foundation, but she was arrested for fraud in 2017. She inspired the Netflix series Inventing Anna, increasing the building's popularity.
In 2017, the building was leased for 15 years by Fotografiska, an offshoot of the Swedish photography museum. Fotografiska New York opened in December 2019.
In July 2022, the RFR put Church Missions House up for sale for $135 million.
Copyright © Geographic Guide - Old images of NYC, Architecture.
Church Missions House about 1903 on 4th Avenue (now Park Avenue South) at 22nd Street in New York City. The Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church is on the right. Edwin S. Gorham Bookstore is on the left.
Church Missions House in 2022 from Google Street View.
The Calvary Church about the early 1880 (old postcard), before the construction of the Church Missions House on the plot in the left, where a four-story building is seen.
Below, the same area in 1906, with the Church Missions House on the plot.
The Church Missions House, 22nd St. (left) and Fourth Ave. Photo by Byron Company (New York, N.Y.), about 1908. Source: Museum of the City of New York.
Forth Avenue entrance to the Church Missions House. Published in the American Architect Building News, volume 44 (April-June), 1894. Later, glass doors were added to the entrance. The wooden doors were restored in the early 1990s.
Church Missions House, 281 Park Avenue South