Throughout its history, New York City has attracted immigrants fleeing adverse political and economic conditions. Only a few of the City’s neighborhoods reflect this pattern of immigration to the extent of Washington Heights–a neighborhood that every few decades has received immigrants of diverse and varying ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures.
Since the beginning of the 20th Century, Washington Heights has experienced dynamic demographic changes that mirror not only the socio-economic context of New York City and the Unites States, but also globally. These changes prompted individuals and families to seek safety and opportunity elsewhere.
The cultural significance of the Holyrood Episcopal Church – Iglesia Santa Cruz lies in these changing and enriching demographics. By serving and welcoming newcomers since it was established in 1893, the congregation has greatly contributed to NYC’s multiculturalism.
As noted by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in a 2004 letter, Holyrood Church has faithfully served the changing populations of Fort Washington, and the history of Washington Heights gives us an idea of how diverse those populations have been:
In the early 1900s an increase in housing development attracted Irish, Eastern European and German immigrants; during World War II many European Jewish people fleeing the Nazi regime settled in this neighborhood; in the 1980’s Russian-Jews moved here to escape the anti-Semitic political climate. After WWII Puerto Ricans, African Americans and Cubans–fleeing Castro’s–regime, migrated to Washington Heights. After the assassination of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961, Dominicans started to arrive in the neighborhood, and in the last decade of the 20th Century they became the predominant group.
In addition to being embraced by a caring and compassionate congregation, immigrants have been welcomed by this outstanding structure built in 1915 by Bannister & Schell, with well-executed Gothic Revival design elements such as its decorative details, traditional arrangement of nave, and arched stained-glass windows with geometric tracery, as well as other unaltered features that make this church architecturally significant.
STATUS In Review
This building / neighborhood / site is in the process of becoming a New York City Landmark.
The neighborhood is named for Fort Washington, a fortification constructed at the highest point on the island of Manhattan by Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, to defend the area from the British forces.Explore the Neighborhood >
Mar 22, 2021
Holyrood Episcopal Church-Iglesia Santa Cruz – 715 West 179th Street
“I don’t know what the City would be without HDC. [They] testified before LPC time after time and helped us focus on the right issues. We would not be an historic district without HDC! ”
Doreen Gallo: DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance
“Use HDC as a resource because they know what they are doing and can offer advice on how to go about creating a district from every front: architectural, political, LPC, and the media. I had floundered prior to my involvement with this invaluable organization.”
Fern Luskin: Lamartine Place Historic District; Friends of Lamartine Place & Gibbons Underground Railroad Site
“HDC provided guidance and shared information during that process—we knew which Council members were going one way or another and we changed a few minds. I don’t think NoHo would have had as cohesive a district had it not been for HDC’s aid.”
Zella Jones: NoHo Historic District; NoHo East; and NoHo Extension
“I remember Richard saying at a meeting, we have someone here from HDC, Nadezhda Williams, Director of Preservation and Research, to help us. She said to us, ‘You are not the only ones going through this.’ HDC included us in an enormous community”
Erika Petersen: West End Preservation Society
"HDC has begun a series of projects to highlight the Bronx's architectural and cultural history. From booklet's and research highlighting specific sites and historic districts to the HDC's symposium in October 2018 to the latest community-based committee to look into further possible sites to qualify for landmarking, the HDC has established projects that will serve the Bronx community well."
City Lore, Folklorist
Bronx Music Heritage Center, Co-Artistic Director
"Welcome2TheBronx is grateful for the advocacy done by the Historic Districts Council on behalf of the people of The Bronx. Through their deep connections and understanding of the importance of preserving our local histories, The Bronx has been able to have several spotlights shown on endangered communities as gentrification creeps into the borough."
Ed García Conde,
founder and Executive Director,