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Successful Sacred Sites Open House Weekend Welcomed Neighbors with Special Tours

Enthusiastic visitors from near and far attended the 14th annual Sacred Sites Open House, on May 18th and 19th, 2024. True to this year’s theme, Welcoming Our Neighbors, many sites greeted new friends including majestic Congregation Emmanu-El, a blend of Byzantine, Moorish, and Art Deco styles, which moved to its present site on Fifth Avenue in 1927. “We had heard a lot about this building,” said Vlad and Elena, visitors from Philadelphia, “so we’re glad we made the trip to see it.”

Statewide, 96 sites opened their doors, from East Hampton on the east end of Long Island to Buffalo and Niagara Falls, and north to Sackets Harbor in the Thousand Islands. The Preservation Association of the Southern Tier hosted tours of over 20 Binghamton-area sacred sites, as they have every year since 2013!

Unitarian Church of Staten Island tour led by Andrew Thomas

In New York City, 41 participating sites included nine synagogues, located from Washington Heights to Staten Island, New York City’s oldest Mosque, in Williamsburg Brooklyn, and 31 churches of multiple denominations. Staten Island’s north shore featured two fully subscribed tours. The Unitarian Church of Staten Island hosted a lively lecture and tour by Conservancy alum Andrew Thomas, conducting some 47 visitors from the rocky early decades of the church, when the progressive, abolitionist founders and members were reluctant attendees and dues-payers, through 1895, when the present, eclectic Queen Ann/Tudor Revival church, with warm bead-board ceiling and wainscoting, was completed. Among those attending was Roy Danischewski, in period, 1850s costume, representing founding church member George William Curtis.

Temple Israel Reform Congregation tour, Staten Island

A mile south in West Brighton, visitors, including officers of tour co-sponsor DOCOMOMO, were treated to a very different worship space, the 1963, mid-century modern Temple Israel Reform Congregation, with randomly placed, blue-tinted windows drawn from Le Corbusier’s Chapel at Ronchamp and floating “butterfly” roof by the influential architect Percival Goodman. In Brooklyn and Queens, Zaskorski & Associates Architects led tours of award-winning restoration projects at the cathedral-scale St. John the Baptist in Bedford Stuyvesant, completed in 1894 by prolific Patrick Keely, and the 1932 Church of the Most Precious Blood in South Astoria, a masterwork by architects McGill and Hamlin.

St. Thomas Church tour

St. Thomas Church in Manhattan offered guided tours both Saturday and Sunday. The church is open 365 days a year “not only because we have at least one worship service every day, but also because we know the people of our great city need a place in the middle of midtown to sit in peace.” A visitor from Jersey City, who had never been in the building before, found the guided tour “fascinating,” while another visitor and Manhattan native remarked, “I have walked by this building easily one thousand times but this is my first time inside. It’s magnificent.” Even those who regularly engage with religious sites found something special about the weekend. “I’m a docent at St. John the Divine,” said Ruth Mueller-Maerki, referring to the landmarked Cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. “Visiting St. Thomas is my way of expanding my horizons. Bravo.”

We are grateful to this year’s Sacred Sites Open House sponsors:

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