At the time of its construction from 1888-93, Judson Memorial Churchs location on
Washington Square South served to cement the churchs artistic vision with its
purpose. In the middle of a wealthy patrician neighborhood, Judson Memorial intended to
unite the immigrants of the tenement communities near the square with the wealthy upper
classes. Dr. Edward Judson, rector of the Berean Baptist Church of Christ, sought to move
his congregation to a new location. He resolved to build an ecclesiastical structure that
would bring beauty to the lives of the low-income immigrants and also memorialize his
father Adoniram Judson, the first American missionary in Asia.
Located on the corner of Washington Square South and Thompson Street, Judson
Memorials brick and terra cotta surface has overlooked Washington Square Park for
over one hundred years. The churchs most significant identifying factor
remains its dedication to egalitarian membership and social concerns of the urban area.
|The Building Stages
In 1886, Edward Judson studied
Manhattan to determine the best [JUDSON 2] position for the relocated Berean Baptist from
its original place on Bedford and Downing Streets. He acquired the 130 by 100 foot lot on
Washington Square in 1888 for $132,500 (Tauranac 48). John D. Rockefeller was a major
donor, and Judson hired the well-known architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White to
design the complex. When officially completed in 1893, primary architect Stanford White
had constructed the 102 foot long church, a 165 foot high campanile tower that housed
orphans and the adjoining Judson Hotel which intended to net income for the church. The
entire cost of the Judson complex totaled $240, 578 (Sloan 300-309 ).
McKim, Mead and White, Architects
At the time Edward Judson envisioned his ecclesiastical masterpiece, the architectural
firm of McKim, Mead and White was among the most well-known in New York, if not all of the
United States. The firm introduced Renaissance-style buildings to the American metropolis,
and Stanford White remains its most recognized partner. Popular culture remembers White
because of his sensational life and murder at the hands of an angry jilted husband.
However, Whites artistic contributions to New York City and to the field of urban
architecture immortalized his life and career. White designed some of the United
States best examples of neo-Renaissance architecture in the original Madison Square
Garden, a structure designed like a palazzo similar to buildings in Northern Italy with a
tower adapted from Spains Moorish cathedrals, and the Washington Square Arch across
the street from Judson Memorial Church.
The Finishing Touches
Construction was completed on Judson Memorial Church in 1893, although the congregation
had begun worshipping there in 1891. Dedication ceremonies included a lecture series
discussing social concerns of immigrants. The terra cotta exterior was heavily influenced
by northern Italian churches in the early stages of the Renaissance, allegedly an attempt
to lure Italian immigrants to the church. Judsons interior resembles a rectangular
auditorium; its plain decor is in keeping with the Baptist tradition that focused on
preaching. The main visuals in the beige-colored room included a baptistery sculpture by
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, but carved by Herbert Adams, and the stained glass windows lining
the walls of the sanctuary.
The actual structure of the church as well as its accents were fundamental to Edward
Judsons goals for the churchs memorial function. Judson planned the decorative
baptistery and the stained glass windows to commemorate the lives of Baptist missionaries
and he hoped they would be funded by family members of the missionaries because the church
did not expect a wealthy congregation. The addition of John LaFarges stained glass
windows and Saint-Gaudens was not unusual to a White design. He frequently requested his
friends to join his projects, thus creating a cohesive artistic vision among all aspects
of the completed structure. It is known from Edward Judsons fundraising records that
he intended the windows and marble frieze to fulfill a memorial and financial purpose, and
it can be assumed "the patron, architect and designer(s) worked out a general scheme
of imagery at the start of the project" (Sloan 300-309).
|Funding difficulties affected that scheme and the windows
were installed gradually over a number of years, as money became available to construct
more. Only a few of the windows commemorate Baptist missionaries, according to Edward
Judsons plan, and instead commemorate family members of substantial donors.
Judsons final window was laid in place in 1912, two years after LaFarges
death. It had been completed by his assistant.
LaFarges window of the Infant Samuel was completed in 1894 to
memorialize David Malcolm Kinmouth, Jr. who donated a childrens retreat home to
Berean Baptist Church. The east wall window is 14 feet, 6 inches by 4 feet, 6 inches.
Judsons Mission Continues
Although Edward Judsons dream of "a splendid
edifice where the classes and the masses could find common
ground" (Users Guide) was not fully realized, Judson Memorial Church has
maintained its social conscience. The churchs programming well into the twentieth
century focused on health and educational assistance to the urban poor. The importance of
experimentation has not diminished among church members in its many years of history.
Judson gained recognition in the mid-1960s when avant garde artists began
utilizing the arts in both worship and organization around social issues. Currently,
Judson Church members participate in community-based art and focus on economic issues
facing the city and the world.
While established as a Baptist church, today Judson is
affiliated with the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ. However,
Judson members describe their "distinctly non-creedal community" that enforces
no particular theology and "respects the individuals search for truth"
(Users Guide). With a congregation numbering approximately two hundred, all Church
members are well-aquatinted. Many have continued a part of Judson Memorial Church for
decades, remaining longer than a single address.
WWW Link: The Judson Memorial Church Page
NewYork | Judson Main | History | Architecture | Windows | Bibliography