5 East 48th Street: The Bible House of the New York Bible Society (now Svenska Kyrkan)

The Bible House (now Svenska Kyrkan), 5 East 48th Street  Built 1871; Alt. by Wilfred  Anthony 1921  Built FAR:  3.99 proposed 14.4

The Bible House of the New York Bible Society, now the Svenska Kyrkan
5 East 48th Street
Wilfred E. Anthony, 1921

The New York Bible Society dedicated its “streamlined Gothic” or neo-Gothic-style headquarters, known as The Bible House, on East 48th Street in April 1921. “We believe we have the most beautiful and unusual building of its size in the country,” stated Rev. George William Carter, Bible Society Secretary, prior to the dedication. Designed by architect Wilfred E. Anthony, the building was constructed under an alteration permit for the 1871 brownstone it replaced. Upon the recommendation of a “Committee on Architectural Harmony” populated by real estate men and members of the New York Chapter of the AIA, the building received the Fifth Avenue Committee’s Silver Medal for (second best) New Building for 1921.

The building housed the New York Bible Society’s 250-seat auditorium, a reading room, a sales desk, rental office space and “Bible and Fruit Missions” until 1978, when the building was sold to the Swedish Seamen’s Church (Svenska Kyrkan), which had been founded on Water Street in 1873. With minimal interior alterations, today the building functions as a center for Swedish life in New York, and includes a meeting space and a café. Programming includes Swedish-language Lutheran mass and concerts.

The six-story limestone façade is a three-part composition, with a wider central bay flanked by two towers articulated in low relief before rising above gables at the fifth floor level to form articulated, octagonal turrets, originally connected by a shed-roofed gallery. A central barrel-shaped leaded glass and copper reading room bay occupied the central bay at street level; entrances are located in the two flanking bays. Three-story lancet arches launched from street level frame leaded and tracery windows at the assembly-hall level—the central arch is broader and less pointed than those in the narrower outer bays. Rising the height of six stories, the building is considered to be four stories due to the double-height reading room on the first floor and the double-height assembly hall above. Like other Anthony commissions, Arts & Craft elements are incorporated into the design, such as the detailing of the former gallery, leaded glass windows, and the barrel-shaped reading-room bay. Other than the loss of the gallery roof, the building’s façade is remarkably unaltered.

Before establishing his own practice, Wilfred E. Anthony worked for the noted academic and ecclesiastical architecture specialists Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson. Both in the Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson practice and on his own, Anthony specialized in interpretations of the Gothic revival. Other notable work includes the neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine of Siena & Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus, 411 E 68th St. (1931), drawing heavily on English Arts & Crafts-influenced design and ornament. The streamlined minimalism of the Bible House, published in the major architectural papers at the time of its completion, was among Anthony’s most interesting and modern interpretations of the Gothic style.

References:

American Architect & The Architectural Review. January 4, 1922. Volume 121: 122-123.

Architectural Record. July 1921, vol. 50: 468-470.

Dunlap, David, From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 267.

“Bible Society in New Home,” New York Times April 10, 1921.

“Bible Society’s New Home,” New York Times April 22, 1921.

“Fifth Avenue Association Awards Medals for Best New and Altered Buildings in Fifth Avenue Zone: First Prize Goes to Textile Building, Occupying Fifth Avenue Block Front—Second to New Home of New York Bible Society,” New York Times November 20, 1921.

Svenska Kyrkan website, 2012. Available online: http://www.svenskakyrkan.se/default.aspx?id=546526

White, Norval, Elliot Willensky, Fran Leadon, AIA Guide to New York City (New York City: Oxford University Press).

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