New York City’s Trinity Church, a tourist attraction loved for its ties to colonial America and links to a Broadway hit, will be largely closed to visitors during a two-year renovation intended to brighten the church and improve disabled access.
The neo-Gothic church surrounded by soaring skyscrapers embarks Monday on a $98 million renovation that will put its nave, with its 66-foot vaulted ceiling, off limits.
A small chapel in the building’s northwest corner will be open, as will the church’s picturesque graveyard, where luminaries including Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Eliza, are buried, will remain open throughout the renovation.
“We’re trying to create much more accessibility and much more capacity to welcome people,” said the church’s rector, William Lupfer.
An estimated 1.9 million people visited Trinity in 2017, according to the church. Those numbers are swollen by fans of the musical “Hamilton,” who often leave flowers or other mementos on the founding father’s memorial stone and the tomb of his wife.
The church’s stained-glass windows will be restored and a new one will be installed at the front of the church facing Broadway. A new organ with more than 7,500 pipes is being built in Germany at a cost of $11.4 million.
The renovations will add a wheelchair ramp to the church, lower the pews, which are now a 4-inch step up from the aisles, and increase seating capacity from 514 to 652.
A clear canopy will be attached to one side of the building to protect clergy members from the elements when they’re assembling for the Sunday procession into the church.
New gender-neutral bathrooms will be added as well.
David Maddox, director of facilities and property management for the church, said the columns and window casements inside Trinity are stone, but the interior walls are plaster painted to look like stone when the church was built in the 1840s. Maddox said the plaster will once again be painted with veining that mimics stone, but in a lighter shade than the dark brown favored in the Victorian era.
The building being renovated is the third Trinity Church to occupy the site at the head of Wall Street. The first was built in 1698 and burned in the great New York fire of 1776, which destroyed hundreds of buildings. The second was built in 1790 and torn down after support beams bucked in 1838. George Washington and members of his government worshipped at the second Trinity Church during the period when New York was the capital of the United States.
The current Trinity Church, designed by architect Robert Upjohn in the Gothic Revival style, was consecrated in 1846. Its 281-foot steeple made it the tallest building in New York City until 1890.
The parish also includes St. Paul’s Chapel five blocks away, built in 1766 and operating continuously since then, which will host Trinity’s Sunday services during the renovation.
Both Trinity and St. Paul’s survived the destruction of the nearby World Trade Center, and St. Paul’s ministered to recovery workers for months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Trinity’s lower Manhattan neighborhood has become both a prime residential area and a tourist destination in the years since the attacks, and Lupfer said hundreds of neighborhood residents as well as visitors worship at Trinity every week.
Insurance broker Alda Dhingra said she lives in New York but hadn’t been inside Trinity Church before visiting last week.
“I’ve always passed it and just walked by,” Dhingra said. “But I needed prayer so I went inside and sat and prayed. And I feel so much better now that I did.” She added, “It’s so beautiful that it’s here amidst all these buildings of commerce. Because I think we all need to remember sometimes we are spiritual beings, we’re not just business people.”