Saturday, July 24, 2010

Holy Trinity Church Named Syracuse Protected Site

Holy Trinity Church Named Syracuse Protected Site

Last week the Syracuse Common Council designated Holy Trinity Church at 501 Park Street as a City of Syracuse Protected Site. The action will help protect the historic and beautiful Gothic-style church from drastic change, though it does not offer full protection - only a good program of appropriate use and adequate funding can do that. Now that the building is protected the real planning for its future can begin - and it will not be easy!

(Holy Trinity church stained Glass. Photos by Samuel D. Gruber
click on any image picture for larger image)

The Preservation Association of Central New York supported the designation of Holy Trinity Church as a Local Protected Site based on its historic, architectural and artistic significance to the city and Central New York. Here is the statement that PACNY presented to the Planning Commission that was also considered by the Common Council. I was happy that I was able to provide the Landmarks Preservation Board with some additional information about the architect and the maker of the glorious stained glass. I've previously posted galleries of photos of the church exterior and interior. Today I'm also including images of the stained glass windows.

The Preservation Association of Central New York supports the designation of Holy Trinity Church as a Local Protected Site based on its historic, architectural and artistic significance to the city and Central New York.

Holy Trinity Church, built from 1905 to 1912, is one of Syracuse’s most impressive Gothic Revival buildings. Designed by Syracuse University trained architect Charles W. Eldridge (1882-1947) and decorated by dozens of large stained glass windows from the studio of Otto F. Andrle (d. 1933) of Buffalo, the two-towered Gothic church is one of Syracuse’s most striking neighborhood landmarks and one of its finest religious spaces.

The closing of the church was announced in December 2009, together with the pending closing of Saint John the Evangelist Church, another great Gothic building that once served as the city’s Catholic Cathedral. Protected Site designation will recognize the inherent qualities in the building and, and in the spirit of the ordinance, it is our hope that designation will help protect these qualities whatever the use to which the building is put in the future. We especially urge the designation of the complete exterior envelope of the church including its exceptional stained glass windows, as well the interior space of the sanctuary with all of its built-in architectural elements (columns, capitals, moldings, etc.).

At the turn of the 20th century, the Northside was home to many German Catholic and Lutheran churches. Many of these were in the Gothic style, a favorite among German-American immigrants beginning in the 1840s. Most are now demolished or transformed to different use. For at least the last half-century the congregation of Holy Trinity has been heavily Italian. More recently, a number of the new parishioners have been Vietnamese Catholics. Whatever the parishioners’ national origins, the great German-Gothic hall style church has been a landmark of architecture, community and faith in the neighborhood. Its tall two-towered fa├žade, augmented by its location on a local highpoint, soars above other buildings in area. It is the most impressive building of any sort in that part of the city.

The interior of the structure is striking. The impressive open space is in the German Gothic tradition in which the considerable height is maintained across all three aisles for the entire width of the church. That also means there are no side galleries, just a choir loft over the entrance narthex (vestibule). The great open space accentuates the light, color and line of the excellent set of narrative stained glass windows by Otto Andrle Studio of Buffalo. They rank among the very best in Central New York. They include many traditional images, but also several unusual window scenes, such as that of the Garden of Eden. The windows are inscribed with passages in German and were mostly donated by members and member societies. (The Syracuse Landmark Preservation Board has a list of all windows subjects and the names of donors).

Otto Francis Andrle was born and educated in Buffalo and was a student of Buffalo artist Lars G. Sellstedt. “Early in his youth, he completed an apprenticeship with Florian Feyl, frescoing, and studied stained glass painting in the studios of Booth and Riester, later the Buffalo Stained Glass works, the pioneer craftsmen of the art in Buffalo. From about 1893 to 1902 he operated his own painting and decorating business, Andrle & Co. at 222-224 Genesee Street in Buffalo. The Teck and Star theaters were among the many Buffalo homes, schools and churches that exhibited his work.” []. Andrle was also an actor, making his professional debut in 1892. He founded the Otto F. Andrle Stained Glass and Art Institute with Jacob J. Diebolt in 1913 after his retirement from the stage.

The church architect was Charles Eldridge (1882-1947), who was born in Canandaigua and received his architectural training at Syracuse University and in the offices of Gordon and Madden and Harry C. Parks. Eldridge opened his own office in 1912 and Holy Trinity must be one of his very first significant commissions. Eldridge went on to become a prominent architect in Rochester and head architect for the Rochester Diocese. He later was an Associate in the firm of Gordon and Kaelber. Among his important works in Rochester are the Columbus Civic Center and its auditorium, the Eastman Theater at the Eastman School of Music, the Rundel Memorial Library, and Corpus Christi Church, Holy Rosary Church, Saint Peter and Paul Church, St. Mary’s Hospital and St. Mary’s Church in Canandaigua. Holy Trinity Church is the only building in Syracuse known to have been designed by Eldridge.

The architect demonstrated his design competence in this early work, aided by first-rate plasterers who carried out all the interior decorative work, including the capitals. The building is probably brick throughout - with the interior covered with plaster roughed and scored and painted to look like ashlar stone blocks. The vaults appear to be plaster, which could be verified by an examination from above in the attic space.

This building is still in very good condition. Two extended visits to the church earlier this year and examination all of the publicly accessible areas, including the tower stairway to the organ loft, revealed a small number of areas visibly in need of repair. There are small areas of deteriorated plaster from water damage in the west tower stairwell. These seemed to be dry, indicating that the source of the damage (which was probably bad drainage off the roof) has been repaired. Also a small area of peeling paint and plaster is visible in the northeast section of the sanctuary. Thus, it is fair to say that this building is not comparable to some other religious structures which suffered from deferred maintenance. The Catholic Diocese and the parish have devotedly maintained this building well for almost a century.


  1. The green text is a bit hard to read, but the information is fascinating and well-researched.

    Holy Trinity is a treasure, but I hear the roof is leaking and the ceiling is showing signs of deterioration. Local Landmark status is not enough. Is there any way to get this building onto the State or National Historic Register(s) and try to protect and preserve it? There are many good uses -- perhaps as a Catholic Museum for the Diocese? -- for which the building could be used.

  2. A great read of the history and a beautiful gallery. Perhaps a bit late, but I've taken the liberty of including this post on the PACNY website after a forwarding from J. Gleisner.

  3. I recently discovered that my 1911-built craftsman-style bungalow in Rochester, NY was designed by Charles W. Eldridge. Unfortunately I haven't too much information on his residential work, although I have found a near-match to my own home in another part of Rochester. Eldridge is attributed with a home on that street, so I have surmised the home too is by Eldridge.

    I'd be very curious to know of other homes in Rochester designed by Eldridge! And of the few I know, each have a Claude Bragdon-designed home as a neighbor. Coincidence, probably but fascinating none-the-less.

  4. It looks like this is the end for this magnificent architectural gem. See:

  5. Actually, the building will be preserved and so will all the windows. The Catholic diocese removed all the interior fittings, but it remains to be seen if the exterior crosses will be removed as the new owners/tenants (a mosque) has requested.