Located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue (between 110 Street (a.k.a. "Cathedral Parkway") and 113 Street) on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the cathedral claims to be the largest cathedral in the world (based on length) and is a popular tourist attraction. It is certainly the world's largest unfinished Gothic cathedral.
An unbroken piece of property of 11.5 acres, on which the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum had stood, was purchased for the cathedral in 1887, and after an open competition a design by the New York firm of George Lewis Heins and John LaFarge in a Byzantine-Romanesque style was accepted the next year. The foundations were completed at enormous expense, largely because bedrock was not struck until the excavation had reached 72 feet. The architect Heins' premature death in 1907 left the Trustees unsure of how to proceed with the artist Lafarge alone. The building as it appears today conforms primarily to a second design campaign from the prolific Gothic Revival architect Ralph Adams Cram of the Boston firm Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson.
Without slavishly copying any one historical model, and without compromising its authentic stone-on-stone construction by using modern steel girders, Saint John the Divine is a refined exercise in the 13th century High Gothic style of northern France. The nave is almost exactly two football fields in length and reaches 124 feet high, the longest and highest Gothic nave in the world. Seven chapels radiating from the ambulatory behind the choir are each in a distinctive national gothic style, meant to represent a wide range of New York's ethnicities.
The first services (in the crypt, under the crossing) were held in 1899. In 1911, the choir and the crossing (which was to be surmounted by a vast crowning spire that has yet to be built) were opened. The first stone of the nave was laid and the west front was undertaken in 1925. The first services in the nave were held the day before Pearl Harbor. Subsequently construction on the cathedral was halted, because the then-bishop felt that the church's funds would better be spent on works of charity. The Rev. James P. Morton, who became Dean of the Cathedral in 1972, encouraged a revival in the construction of the Cathedral, and in 1979 Bishop Paul Moore decided that the building should be continued, in part to preserve the crafts of stonemasonry by training neighborhood youths, thus providing them with a valuable skill. The construction continued until the 1990s; the new generation of stonecarvers have since dispersed.
In 2003, the Cathedral was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.