The Largest Pizzeria In The United States Is In A 19th Century Times Square Church

When you first come to Eighth Avenue between 43rd & 44th, it appears to be nothing more than a strip of touristy gift shops.

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Swing around the corner on 44th Street, and you’ll just find a row of restaurants.

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But look at this intersection from above, and you’ll see something unusual hidden from view…

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Nestled behind the outer wall of buildings, an inner structure topped with an eight-sided dome:

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What is it? As it happens, you can go check it out in person simply by passing through the doors of one of the few good restaurants in Times Square, John’s Pizzeria.

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Head through the entrance hall…

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…pass through the arches…

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…and step into the main room of the restaurant…

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…and it shouldn’t take long before the dimensions start reminding you not of a pizzeria…

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…but instead, a church, complete with its former balcony-level seating and stained glass windows.

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Oh, and be sure to look up…

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…to see one of the most beautiful stained-glass ceilings in New York:

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Seriously, how gorgeous is that?

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A closer look…

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And a little closer…

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Nearly 100 years before it was serving the best pizza in Times Square, this was home to the Gospel Tabernacle church, founded by the evangelical Protestant preacher A. B. Simpson. The church was always inset from the street – the attached buildings on Eighth Avenue and 44th Street housed a missionary training college offering three year courses for men and women (separated, of course), as well as a bookstore. Below, the entrance on 692 Eighth Avenue in 1931

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…and today.

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The church flourished in the early half of the century (below, a picture of the church in its heyday), but by the mid-90s, it was abandoned and in a state of decay (special thanks to reader Matthew for locating a picture!).

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In 1995, the property was purchased by Madeline Castelotti and renovated into a John’s Pizza location.

It’s interesting to search for the remnants of the former church. Clearly, the altar would have been located behind this mural (would love to know if it’s still hidden back there!).

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Still lining the walls are stained-glass windows in triplets…

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…some still allowing in light…

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…while others have since been blocked by exterior walls.

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I’d say it’s a safe assumption these are the original chandeliers from the church:

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Finally, I love that the balcony area was kept, which really retains the character of the church:

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To get a sense of the strange geography of the place, head to the bar…

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…where a skylight gives you a sense of exactly where you are amongst the jumble of surrounding buildings:

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Unfortunately, I was unable to find any historical pictures of what the interior of the church used to look like (if anyone can find any, please send them my way). I did manage to dig up a picture of the 8th Avenue entrance…

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…which today leads into the kitchen.

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According to the John’s website, this is the largest pizzeria in the country. While I have no clue if this is accurate or not, I do know that this place serves a damn good pizza, and is one of the few reasons I look forward to making the requisite Times Square tourist visit when relatives come to town.

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And lest anyone have a problem with a church being turned into a pizzeria, really stare at the ceiling overhead. Pretty sure it was what God intended from the beginning.

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-SCOUT

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20 comments

  1. John’s on 44th is a stunning facility – it’s nice to finally learn a little more!
    Been there so many times – though I prefer the downtown location on Bleecker (imo the 44th street John’s undercooks and under-spices the pizzas for tourists!), the uptown spot is the most beautiful spot to bring out of town friends for a few pies.

    It took me a few years to notice this, but the chandeliers in the main room extend into the mural – they are painted in to extend the cavernous feel of the place. Nice little touch, I thought.

    Thanks for a great web site, and for making me hungry!!

  2. Food tips for touristy areas plus preserved history, this is the best blog.

  3. Love John’s Pizzeria! And now I love it even more – thanks Scout!

  4. I need to stop by and check this out this weekend.

    in addition, @RM, thanks for the tip on how they repeated the lighting into the mural for that added depth, not sure I would have ever noticed that one.

  5. John’s is one spot that my family and I regularly visit when we visit the city. Good pizza, conveniently located to Broadway plays, and great atmosphere.

  6. I believe it was A.B. Simpson who founded the church, and I believe this is the interior of the church.

    It’s hard to read the text, though.

    https://www.cmalliance.org/images/resources/archives/no4-gospel-tabernacle.jpg

  7. I just hope the service is better since I took my family there when they were visiting from out of town. The waiter was clearly hating his life or just showing off his acting skills in the role of “sneering Times Square server who feels superior to tourists.”

  8. Looking at the pictures, isn’t the mural at the exact place of the former wall with nothing behind ?

  9. Great pizza. Ate there twice. I always was amazed at the interior of this place. We ate in the balcony. Thanks for the info.Great job!! Can’t wait to go back.

  10. I don’t thing there would have been a big altar at all- in churches like that the emphasis is all on the preaching, the ritual being much less important (and possibly seen as “Popeish”)

  11. If you compare the interior historical picture and the modern picture the altar isn’t behind that wall- it was actually in front of it. It would be where the circular tables are, right in the middle of the floor where all eyes could see it.

  12. Oh wow, see this is why you rock. I practically live in the Theatre District with how often I run around there for work and yet I have never once stepped inside John’s Pizzeria. The funny thing is I must have walked past the storefront dozens of times and yet I never imagined the interior would look anything like this. Thanks for providing me with a new lunch spot for tomorrow haha.

  13. The Stained Glass Roof looks like a Pizza!

  14. I love the new use for the old church. I will be sure to check it out when I’m in Manhattan next.

  15. Nyack Colllege, with locations in Manhattan and Rockland County, was also founded by AB Simpson. I know that they have archives of this location.

    http://www.nyack.edu

  16. The Gospel Tabernacle was the “mother “church for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Christian denomination. As a college student I went there often during the 1950s, even sang there. Nyack College , Nyack, NY, was founded by Dr. A.B. Simpson, and originally was housed in that building. Permit me to suggest that I think 10% of the proceeds from the Pizzeria restaurant should be given to Nyack College every year. The college is one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the United States. I encourage you to do this. It will substantially improve your business.

  17. Great post! If you are ever in Colorado Springs (current home of the C&MA, the organization launched by Simpson/Gospel Tab) we’d be happy to give you “more of the story”. We have archives of photos, the original pulpit, etc. Please let us know if you are ever in town.
    John Stumbo, President

  18. I am pretty well steeped in the history of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Gospel Tabernacle was the “mother church” of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, a relatively small denomination in the U.S. but very big on the mission field. I have seen several interior pictures of this place at the turn of the Twentieth Century. There would be no altar behind the mural. As with holiness churches of the time, it was pulpit-centered, not sacrament-centered. The mural wall was merely a backdrop which had, I believe, a Scripture verse painted on it.

  19. I am employed by The Christian and Missionary Alliance, the movement begun by A. B. Simpson in the Gospel Tabernacle in 1888-89. One hundred years later, The Alliance moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Simpson’s pulpit that stood in front of that great mural resides here at the National Office. It’s one of my highlights as I give guided tours to visitors, when I’m not writing the stories of God at work through Alliance ministries for more than 126 years!

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