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A Century in Bronxville for West Center Congregation Church

Started by a group of parents in 1912, West Center continues the tradition of serving the community with its weekly services and special activities.

 

The following was submitted by Susan Reisinger Publicist and Moderator West Center Congregational Church.

In 1912, a group of parents living the Cedar Knolls and Armour Villa neighborhoods, concerned that their children and others in the area have a proper religious education, organized a Sunday School under the leadership of Alan Fullarton. 

Around the same time the First Presbyterian Church in Yonkers was looking to expand and lent a portable chapel to the group which was set up on the corner of Cross Street and Wilbur Place. 

The Armour Villa Park Chapel, as it was called, housed the church school classes and occasional Sunday evening services for eight years and was then moved to the corner of Boyd Place and Bronxville Road. 

That same year, in 1920, the Reformed Church of Bronxville invited the Sunday School to join with them, and it became the West Center Branch of the Reformed Church. 

The association lasted seven years, and the adults involved with the Sunday School became members of the Reformed Church; their ministers took turns preaching at West Center’s services.  Members of the Reformed Church helped with their time and money to build the West Center Branch which grew and prospered.  The church’s current site at the corner of Pondfield Road West and Chatfield Road was acquired in 1922. 

During that time, the Reformed Church was raising funds to construct its current building, and both they and the West Center parents agreed that West Center form its own church. 

In 1927, the West Center Church was organized and subsequently affiliated with the Congregational denomination because of its service to the community and its emphasis on self-governance.  As the church grew, a Community House was built, followed by a sanctuary and then a manse.  In the 1930s and 1940s, under the ministry of the Reverend Oliver C. Weist, the church continued to grow and fundraising for a larger sanctuary was started.  Mr. Weist organized a choir and a fulltime director of education was added to the staff.

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Believing strongly in serving the community, West Center provided space to many local groups.  The Armour Villa Branch of the Yonkers Public Library made its home in the Community House for many years.  The Cedar Knolls Association, Armour Villa Park Association, Republican Club, School #8 P.T.A. Cub Scouts and Brownies all held meetings there. 

West Center members were active in supporting the troops fighting in World War II through community service and by sending care packages, letters and clothing.  Mr. Weist did much to help the morale of the families; 126 men from the church served in the armed forces. 

After World War II, West Center renewed its building campaign and its dream of a newer and larger sanctuary.  Mr. Weist left in 1949 and the Reverend Dr. William A. Leath was hired in 1950.  Under his leadership the Building Committee was revived, more funds were raised and the cornerstone for the Undercroft, the first stage of the new building, was laid in 1952.  The new sanctuary, Leath Hall, as it is known now, was dedicated in 1953.

As the membership increased, two services were scheduled for each Sunday of the year and the practice of having a second minister was started.  After Dr. Leath resigned in 1955, the Reverend J. Everett Bodge was hired. 

The present sanctuary was built under his ministry and was dedicated on Palm Sunday in 1962.  Designed by architects Salo and Thorsland, the midcentury modern building was considered unique to the area with its contemporary style.  The glass windows are particularly special and were designed by the Willett Studios of Philadelphia. 

Each window is made of chunks of colored glass set in epoxy, something new at the time, and represents a part of the church beliefs.  The largest window facing Chatfield Road, called “The Arms of the Church”, depicts the figure of Christ with outstretched arms welcoming all.  The large white marble cross above the altar was given by the Sunday School.

In 1961 West Center voted to join other Congregational Churches in merging with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches and became a member of the United Church of Christ.  It still is a Congregational church and a member of the United Church of Christ.

Today, West Center continues the tradition of serving the community with its weekly and special services and activities.  The sanctuary is noted for its excellent acoustics and a number of recordings have been made there. 

The Bronxville Montessori School now occupies the original Community House and sanctuary (Weist Hall); St. Mary’s Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church meets in Leath Hall.  The Tai Chi School of Westchester has classes in the Community House and various neighborhood groups hold meetings at West Center.  Everyone is welcome to attend Sunday services at 11 a.m., led by the Reverend John M. Barrett. 

The Chancel Choir, directed by Arnold Ostlund, Jr. rehearses before the service at 10 a.m. and the Sunday School has classes at 11 a.m.  West Center is located at 101 Pondfield Road West at the corner of Chatfield Road.

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Josh Semendoff (Editor) October 16, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Always loved this building and to learn of their history was very satisfying. Anyone else have stories to share regarding West Center?

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