Did you know there once was a 150-acre National Prohibition Park in northwest Staten Island that drew 200,000 visitors a year? Did you know that the great Babe Ruth dedicated a communion railing in a Riverdale Church to legendary Yankee hitter Lou Gehrig?
I didn’t. But I found out while preparing for the virtual Sacred Sites Open House tour we’re presenting this Thursday.
This is the 10th anniversary of our annual weekend walking tours of religious institutions across the state. Historic religious buildings are often architecturally beautiful. But they also tell stories of community development and immigration patterns, and hold memories. Since we couldn’t host in-person tours this year, we’ve held a month-long virtual celebration on social media.
Immanuel Union Church on Staten Island traces its roots to the temperance movement and was associated with National Prohibition Park. At its peak, the 150 acres held campgrounds, picnic groves, tennis courts, ball fields, horse stables, a bowling alley, the Park Hotel and a 4000-seat auditorium. As the temperance movement began to fade in the 1900s, land was sold off for housing lots. The City bought the remaining acreage in 1907 for parkland. It’s now the Westerleigh neighborhood.
When 37-year-old Lou Gehrig died of ALS in 1941, his funeral was held in Christ Church, across the street from his Riverdale home. Gehrig’s death was national news. Papers featured a picture of Babe Ruth paying his respects at the wake.
Knowing the stories of religious buildings, and historic buildings in general, adds to the richness of living in our communities. That’s one reason we work so hard to preserve them. Hope to see you walking around on Open House weekend next year.
With best wishes from all of us for your health and safety,
Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy