Broadway and 79th Street (First Baptist Church)
Architect: George Keister
Landmark Status: Historic District
Primary Style: Italian Romanesque Revival
Wish List: Wishes Come True
First Baptist Church is a landmark in every sense, situated at a major crossroads of the Upper West Side and beloved by all who frequent the neighborhood. The congregation built its first house of worship on Gold Street in Lower Manhattan in the early 18th century. In the 1890s, after several moves, the congregation settled into this site in the heart of the neighborhood developing along Broadway. There was already talk of the IRT subway with a stop at 79th Street. George Keister, a residential and theater architect later known for designing the Apollo Theater on 125th Street (1913-14), was selected through a design competition to develop the building’s novel plan and eclectic Italian Romanesque Revival façade. The axis of the church sits at a 45-degree angle so that it embraces the Broadway intersection and maximizes the interior auditorium space, covered by a barrel-vaulted, stained-glass ceiling. Biblical iconography is intricately woven into the façade. Even the two asymmetrical towers have symbolic meaning. This conscientious appreciation of architecture and symbolism has been sustained by the First Baptist congregation, who, as dedicated stewards, have warded off developers seeking to exploit the site’s redevelopment potential. The days of resistance may be numbered, however. The congregation recently announced that it was weighing the possibility of allowing redevelopment that would destroy the historic structure. Without landmark designation, there is nothing to prevent such destruction.