Friday, March 18, 2016

Janet Sabine in Manhattan

My husband and I visited Manhattan in January. He was there for business and we were staying overnight with new friends of his, who told us they lived pretty close to the Met. As we walked to their place from the subway, I thought about Janet Sabine. Since it was a short visit and we already had a full schedule, I hadn't gotten around to looking up the addresses where she lived after she married and left Boston, so I could check out those buildings. I remembered that her second wedding, to a fellow Bostonian transplant (with a long pedigree and Harvard connections), had taken place in The Brick Church, which I had never seen nor heard of. I assumed it was in some Knickerbocker enclave of lower Manhattan, suitable for an old-guard society wedding. (I've read a lot of Edith Wharton.) We were uptown, so I doubted we'd have time to look it up and visit. It would have to wait for another trip.

Radcliffe College Archives, 
Arthur & ElizabethSchlesinger Library, Harvard University

We continued our walk along Park Avenue, which was taking forever because it was freezing and windy; we were suffering. I noticed a brick church across the street. I wondered which one it was. Surely there are hundreds of brick churches in Manhattan, I thought... but I made a mental note to ask our friends since they lived so close by.

It turned out that our friends have their own limestone-and-brick townhouse on a corner of Park Avenue. We hadn't known what to expect aside from their saying they had "lots of room for guests."  Indeed, we had a floor mostly to ourselves, and a balcony. A pair of flaming gas lamps flanked their glossy double front doors in fine 19th-century style. We rang the bell and a maid opened the door. It felt like stepping into an Edith Wharton novel; then our hosts appeared, welcomed us warmly, and guided us to their elevator and our room. 

All of this took some getting used to, so thoughts of the Sabines fled from my mind as we settled into the guest room and made our way down a few flights of stairs to find our friends and have tea (and pastries from the NYC branch of Kayser, maker of my favorite Paris eclairs). Their house is wonderful: modern but elegant and comfortable, and full of color, personality, and interesting art. (And there were little bowls of candy everywhere; what a good idea.) 

But as we were walking to dinner that night we passed the church, at Park and 91st again, so I asked about it. And they told me it was called The Brick Church. While I was high-fiving my husband, exclaiming, and jumping up and down, they were insisting on hearing the whole story over dinner. (We all had so much to say that we closed the restaurant.)

Photo: The Brick Presbyterian Church.

The next day, my husband and I went into the church offices and a volunteer gave us a short tour.

We learned that this was The Brick Church's third location in Manhattan, so I promptly asked for dates and figured out that Janet was married in this one, on February 3, 1945, when the building was five years old.

The church was set up for a concert, with the pipe organ in the center of the sanctuary.

Then we were taken to see the chapel and I had to wonder if their wedding took place in that more modern, intimate space instead. The guide didn't know exactly when it had been completed, but I read online that it was in 1952, so that settled that.

The chapel; I think there are usually chairs on those blue carpets.

We really enjoyed seeing the church and talking to the staff there. There serendipity of finding Janet's wedding location, along with making nice new friends, made it a memorable trip. 

On the ride home, I wondered where Janet had lived in New York, and if I might ever, possibly, by some strange twist of fate or stroke of luck, find any photos.

What do you think?

I was pleased that Janet had probably had a full-blown church wedding the second time around. Jane Sabine, her mother, had been ill in the summer of 1929, when Janet married for the first time, so her wedding, in Leslie Lindsey Chapel of Emmanuel Church on Newbury Street, had been for just the immediate families.


  1. I am thoroughly enjoying your paths to discovery about the Sabine family!
    Thanks for taking us along for the ride.


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