The Viele Map

Created by Egbert L. Viele in 1865, the Sanitary and Topographical Map of the City and Island of New York (aka the Viele map), shows the pre-grid, natural state of the island, including some 500 hills, 88 miles of streams, 21 ponds and 300 springs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Limelight: an Unholy Evolution

As happens, while doing research on one project I stumbled on something so remarkable I thought it deserved its own post.  At first I didn’t think it could be possible, but Stoke’s Iconography (v. 3) had this image from 1846 of a quaint little country church, that looked eerily familiar. Then I read the name: Church of the Holy Communion—the notorious Limelight on the corner of 6th Avenue and West 20th Street run by Peter Gatien in the 80s and 90s.
Limelight ii
 Stokes, I. N. Phelps The iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909 New York : Robert H. Dodd, 1915-1928.Electronic reproduction. v. 1-4. New York, N.Y. : Columbia University Libraries, 2008. JPEG use copy available via the World Wide Web. Master copy stored locally on [74] DVDs#: ldpd_5800727_001 01-13 ; ldpd_5800727_002 01-19 ; ldpd_5800727_003 01-16 ; ldpd_5800727_004 01-16.. Columbia University Libraries Electronic Books. 2006.

I still didn’t believe it, but when I Google Earthed it there was no question it was the same building.  The vantage point below is farther to the left of the above image.  
Limelight today iii
It’s not as quaint as it seems though, according to Stoke’s, “In the plate representing the Church of the Holy Communion,…[the] landscape scenery has been substituted for the streets of the city, as more appropriate to the character of the building.”  Still, in the 1840s this part of 6th Avenue was a quiet residential part of town. The landmarked Gothic Revival church was designed by Richard Upjohn, the same architect of Trinity Church.

Today it’s in the heart of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, the middle class shopping mecca of the 1870s and 80s when an elevated train ran down 6th Avenue.  The parish somehow survived all the retail mayhem only to have its former house of worship become the victim of a much more maniacal sort.  

The congregants moved on in the 1970s and the church (deconsecrated) became a drug rehab center, Odyssey House.  Peter Gatien bought the property in 1982 and opened it as the Limelight (Andy Warhol hosted the opening night party).  Drug dealing and bad publicity saw the place padlocked on-and-off until it was finally shuttered in 2001.  What it’s most notorious for though is its connection to the 1996 murder and dismemberment of a denizen drug dealer by the club’s party promoter, Michael Alig (not on the grounds).  Macaulay Culkin and Seth Green did the movie Party Monster based on the club and that event.

Today it’s a boutique shopping mall, the Limelight Marketplace, and I went there not too long ago.  It’s definitely a different kind of shopping experience; a maze of little “shops” in tiny nooks strung along walkways and narrow stairs that every so often reveal Gothic elements in the walls and ceilings.  I also went there once in the 90s when it was the Limelight.  Just once.


  1. I know this is probably not what you to intended for us to take away from this, but Party Monster sounds like just about the worst movie ever.

  2. You find the most amazing things! Thanks for sharing the information with us!

  3. *like*...very time I come home, you have GOT to take me around to all these places..I will start practicing my roller blading...

  4. Thanks everyone. Party Monster was an awful movie, though I have this urge to see again.

  5. You write so well. And I am learning things about my city I never knew. Like Ladies’ Mile Historic District - I want a piece of that.

    Also, love your alliteration:

    dismemberment of a denizen drug dealer

    Nice. Disturbing. But nice.

  6. What can one say. A while back was a TV show, I can't the Name, but the intro was "There 6 millon stories in this city, this one of them".