Yet another transformation of this mid-1800s church
Marshall Heyman reports for The Wall Street Journal: David Barton Gym Finds Sanctuary at the Limelight.
Former Church and Night Club Now Houses State-of-the-Art Workout Equipment.
A David Barton Gym member lifts weights in a lower-level weight room.
A new gym on the border of Chelsea and the Flatiron district is giving new meaning to the idea that working out is at the intersection of a religious experience and going to a nightclub. The David Barton Gym opened last week, in the Sixth Avenue space once occupied by the Limelight.
The nightclub was previously an Episcopal church built in the mid-1800s, so in a way the gym evokes a place of worship and a hot spot from the heyday in one. The church became a drug-rehabilitation center in the 1970s and remained that way until 1982, when Peter Gatien turned it into the Limelight. In 2010, after a short-lived run as the nightclub Avalon, it was redeveloped into a Fred Segal/Ron Herman kind of mini-mall with a wine bar and restaurant.
Left: David Barton Gym’s new location at 47 W. 20th St. Right: The front desk at the new David Barton Gym.
There is still a small shopping area at street level, but most of the church as well as the former nunnery and the rectory have been transformed into a workout facility. As it has expanded over the years, the David Barton Gym, said its president, Kevin Kavanaugh, has been looking for spaces that aren’t “cookie-cutter.”
The Limelight didn’t immediately scream treadmills, elliptical machines and locker rooms, but, he said, “it was a nightclub, so it had the bones of a great public space. Its natural architecture and beauty is so crazy, I just had to accentuate that.” The goal, he added, is to inspire members by the atmosphere and the energy when they walk in, “so that they’re going to want to work out.”
After entering what was once the church bell tower and climbing the stairs to check in to the gym, you are greeted with a tray of votive candles. It’s a nod to honoring the gods of fitness, as well as one of the many references and holdovers from the space’s former lives. (The gym, like many of the recent David Bartons, was designed by Bill Sofield.) A safe that once belonged to the Limelight when it was a nightclub has been placed under the stairs.
A tin ceiling has been recovered and restored, and original stonework and stained glass have been retained and exposed. The stained-glass windows will also be lighted from the inside, so the effect lasts through the day and evening. Yoga is being taught in a “sanctuary” at the top of the church, while hard-core lifters can use a downstairs area that previously served as a chapel.
David Barton Gym has preserved much of the former church's original architecture.
Mr. Kavanaugh said that these days, a gym, conceptually, is a kind of “religious environment, where like-minded individuals can get healthy. We welcome everyone. It’s about coming to get the results you want and improve yourself.” Though the space has many throwbacks to the past, it is also the first gym in New York to feature Life Fitness’s Integrity equipment, which can be scanned with a smartphone to track calorie-burning and connect with other diet apps.
On treadmills, for instance, you can download new trails. The cardio machines, in particular, use a high-speed Internet connection that allows for television viewing and interfaces like Netflix. As for actually doing the workout and reps for you, “we haven’t figured that out yet,” said Mr. Kavanaugh.