Take a Tour of the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, Connecticut
When designing the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, Connecticut, Wallace K. Harrison asked the building committee, “Have you ever thought what it would be like to live in a giant sapphire?”
The church is one of 97 community-serving congregations in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico that has received funds from the National Fund for Sacred Places, a program of Partners for Sacred Places in collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
The grant, supports the stabilization of concrete structural ribs that were heavily damaged by water at this modernist National Historic Landmark. The stabilization is part of a multi-million, multi-phased project to correct water leaks, structural integrity issues, and “glass disease” (degradation of glass resulting in weeping, crizzling, spalling, cracking, and fragmentation) at the church.
In April 2023, the Northeast Chapter of the Association of Preservation Technology (APTNE) led a tour of First Presbyterian, and we wanted to bring you along to marvel at the “Fish Church” and its bejeweled interior.
An aerial view of First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, commonly referred to as “Fish Church” due to the unconventional angular footprint of the sanctuary. A fish is an early Christian symbol because the first letters of the Greek translation of “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior” create “Ichthus,” the Greek word for fish.
Exterior views of the 1950s and 1960s campus of First Presbyterian Church. Wallace K. Harrison, best known as one of the architects of the United Nations headquarters in New York City, designed the sanctuary and carillon tower. Prior to earning the commission for First Presbyterian Church, Harrison had never designed a church but was hired for his mastery of the International Style.
The sanctuary was completed in 1958 and built from a series of thin shell, precast, folded concrete panels inclined inward and reinforced by interior ribs cast in place. The 260-foot, 56-bell freestanding carillon tower, added in 1968, can be heard up to 1.5 miles away. Local architect Willis Mills designed the fellowship hall, completed in 1952, in concert with Harrison’s plans for the sanctuary.
Visitors to the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, Connecticut, were dazzled by the incredible array of stained glass in the sanctuary.
Details of the interior of First Presbyterian Church, including dalle de verre glass (colored glass set in concrete) and concrete ribs. The sanctuary contains more than 20,0000 pieces of glass in 86 hues, exuding a blue light which encompasses the space. Motifs in the glass tell the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Views of the interior of the fellowship hall at First Presbyterian Church. Designed by local architect Willis Mills as Harrison created plans for the sanctuary, the fellowship hall was the first part of the church to be completed. Its design and construction are reminiscent of mid-century schools. The fellowship hall is used for many community events, such as youth education programs, and shares space with other civic nonprofits. Supporting community-serving historic houses of worship is a critical piece of "Growing Collaborative Networks and Equitable Communities," a goal of the National Impact Agenda.
Photos of the chapel, where preservationist Wes Haynes and preservation architect Theo Prudon spoke to tour visitors about the history and ongoing preservation efforts of the site. The dalle de verre glass in this chapel served as a trial for the sanctuary.
Photos of visitors during the APTNE tour of First Presbyterian Church. In the three years following the sanctuary’s construction, more than 300,000 people visited the site. Today, as Stamford’s only National Historic Landmark, First Presbyterian Church remains a prominent tourist destination.
Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.
Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.