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First Baptist Church and Mizpah Hotel, Syracuse, NY

December 2, 2013

The “Institutional Church” is a special case that grew from the Social Gospel movement and more often than not includes elements of the Akron-Auditorium phenomenon. First Baptist Church in Syracuse, New York is a case in point. A 19th century Gothic Revival building of no special distinction occupied the corner site on the square in downtown Syracuse until the ‘teens. The project completed in 1914 bears little resemblance to a traditional church, however; so different, in fact, that it was listed in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not”.

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The broad yet shallow auditorium-sanctuary occupies the entire depth of the site, wrapped 180 degrees about the pulpit and total immersion baptismal tank, a usual feature in Baptist churches that administer the rite to young adults, rather than infants. I have never seen plans of the building, but there must have been Sunday School and social rooms to the left of the auditorium on the same ground floor and balcony arrangement (though there don’t appear to have been any connecting doors between them). The most curious feature—and the part that makes it institutional—is the hotel piled on top. Three stories of single-occupant rooms were originally connected to the YMCA but eventually became an independent hotel for single women. The full story can be read here.

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Much like Chicago’s Auditorium by Adler & Sullivan, the building’s strategic site in central Syracuse is both an asset and a curse. As a center for the arts, rental space in the top floors could offset the maintenance and operation of a performance venue below. At present the building is derelict and in limbo.

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