NYC's Limelight in the Limelight

Madison Sportelli (‘19)

It’s 1983. A Catholic church turned rock and roll haven stands on the corner of West 20th
Street in Chelsea, New York City. Rock superstars like Cyndi Lauper, Marilyn Manson, and
members of Guns N’ Roses pass through the church doors for the opening night party hosted by
Andy Warhol himself. This is the year when a once-historic church became one of New York’s
most famous music venues.

What was The Limelight before it was a rock and roll nightclub? The history of the
famous venue stretches back to the year 1852.

“The Church of the Holy Communion was initially built in the mid-19th century, when
Sixth Avenue was home to some of the wealthiest New Yorkers...Backed by the tremendous
financial resources of the neighborhood, the Church of the Holy Communion was constructed
right on Sixth Avenue,” said Priya Krishna of Curbed New York.

The church has changed hands many times since its construction in the mid-19th century.
Desperate for money, the parish of the church granted a 99-year lease to the Lindisfarne
Association in 1976. The association lasted for two years, but was unable to pay the bills, so the
church was then sold to The Odyssey House and turned into a rehabilitation center. In a bidding
war, the church was then lost to nightclub owner Peter Gatien and turned into a club that would
eventually become an icon in New York City’s history.

“I think it opened in like 83’ or 84’ and it was the first club I got into that I didn’t have to
wait on a line for. I felt pretty cool. My friend had been dating a guy at the time that was
involved in the closing of the club. I remember not being able to tell my mom that I was going to
a club that was once a church because I was raised Catholic and I knew that she wouldn’t like
that,” said Mary Slender, an English teacher at Fair Lawn High School.

Although The Limelight hosted many legendary events and despite several popular music
artists of the time having passed through its doors, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on drug
abuse forced the club to close its doors in 2007.

“We all always talked about going but none of us actually had the guts to go because we
never thought we would get in and I was afraid I would get in trouble. But we all knew that it
was the place to be in the 80s,” said Melissa Healey, a teacher at Fair Lawn High School.
The history of The Limelight stands the test of time to this day. Many that lived through
the club’s heyday can attest to the incomparable atmosphere within the building itself.
The historical landmark was a Gothic Revival brownstone building. The architect of the
church, Richard Upjohn, was famous for building many other churches in the 1800s in New
York City, including Christ Church and The Church of Ascension. The architecture of the
building made it unique in the bustling, restless city.

“We always knew it as the rock and roll church. It was very gothic and drab and dark
outside. It was hard to get in…It was such a fun place to go to there was a great gothic, dark
ambiance. You could never see more than 10 feet in front of you,” said Fair Lawn resident Paul
Sportelli.

The club was like no other and its distinct Gothic architecture stood out in the sprawl of
the city.

“There was nothing like it and it stood out like Dracula’s castle in an urban city
environment. It was not trying to be some kind of attraction,” Sportelli said. 

Header: Willis Wiliams on Pinterest 

Thumbnail: Glenwood 

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