Harlem’s beautiful late Victorian Gothic Revival skyline landmark is the slender steeple of Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church on West 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue in central Harlem, New York. The roots of this sanctuary are common with those of the Elmendorf Reformed Church. Both emerged from the Harlem Reformed Dutch Church, which separated along economic and geographic lines in 1887, when this building was constructed as the Second Collegiate Church of Harlem, to serve the wealthier families living in western Harlem. John Rochester Thomas (1848-1901) designed the late Victorian Gothic Revival building faced in yellowish Ohio sandstone that was constructed between 1885-1887. The church’s slender tower was once capped by a metal crocket, and the lower level has corbels of monsters that flank the central entrance; between the doors is a mustachioed head of a man. Thomas, who is perhaps best known for his Hall of Records/Surrogate’s Court on Chambers Street, designed more than 150 churches, including the 1883 building for Calvary Baptist Church on West 57th Street. A bell cast in Amsterdam in 1734 for the original Harlem church was brought here. The Church Hall, now the Youth Chapel, was erected at the rear of the building between 1894-1895.
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By the late 1920s, the demographics of Harlem had changed, and many white Protestants relocated to other areas. In 1929, the Collegiate Reformed congregation moved downtown (taking the bell with them) to become the East Eighty-ninth Street Reformed Church. Their former church building was leased in 1930 by an Adventist congregation formed by the merger of two older black groups, and that group, now named Ephesus, purchased the building in 1939. The Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church grew rapidly, and by 1945 the membership reached 1,000, the mortgage was satisfied and a new pipe organ was installed.
The birthplace in 1968 of the Boys Choir of Harlem.
On January 9, 1969, a fire started in the roof of the Youth Chapel and quickly spread to the church. The entire interior was destroyed, except for three stained glass windows. Witnesses on the scene remarked that the fire department took great care in causing minimal damage to the windows. The fire weakened the steeple and the top 30 feet was removed to prevent it from collapsing. While the church was rebuilt (1969-1978), the members of the church worshiped at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church at 127th Street and Fifth Avenue. The interior of the building and the roof were totally rebuilt at a cost of $2.3 million and, in 1978, the congregation returned. In December 2006, the truncated steeple was restored with the addition of a replacement pinnacle of lead-coated copper and steel.