Preservation Issues

Advocacy for Threatened Sacred Sites

Over the past three years, the Conservancy has been a strong advocate for saving historic Catholic churches throughout the city.

A recent article in The New York Sun indicates there may be hope for saving these threatened sacred sites.

The Conservancy has been a pro active advocate for parishes working to save their architecturally great sites.

Our Initial Survey and Focus

Anticipating potential closings by the Archdiocese of New York, we began in summer 2004 to survey more than one hundred at-risk churches in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. The same year, we testified before the Commission to landmark St. Aloysious on West 213th Street and The Church of All Saints on East 129th street, which had been first calendared in 1966.

In March 2006, the Archdiocese of New York announced that its intention to close 31 parishes, 8 missions, and 14 schools: its biggest reorganization in 150 years.

While we recognize that all of these houses of worship play a vital role in their communities, we focused our efforts on fourteen architecturally significant buildings, see below.

We reached out to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to urge the landmarking of these sites. We assisted congregations as they worked with City Council members and state representatives. Conservancy President Peg Breen wrote Mayor Bloomberg urging him to consider the loss of religious buildings in his city-planning initiatives and suggest a special mayoral commission to encourage adaptive reuse of religious buildings.

2007 Announcements

In January 2007, the Archdiocese announced its latest realignment plans. While parishes may merge or move, the status of the fourteen architecturally significant buildings that we’ve highlighted is a mix of good and bad news.

Sites Reprieved

Sites To Close*

*some parishes may merge or be relocated

Under Review

Three of our 14 architecturally significant churches are still under review, experiencing a change in school status or to be merged but remain open as a worship site: Our Lady of Esperanza (1912), West 156th Street, Manhattan
St. Joseph (1834), Sixth Avenue, Manhattan, St. Veronica (1890-1903), Christopher Street, Manhattan,were already protected as City landmarks or contributing components of historic districts.

Suprise Designations

To our surprise, amid these changes, St, Aloysius and The Church of All Saints were landmarked in late January 2007— the first Roman Catholic churches designated in 28 years.
The Conservancy testified before the Commmission in 2004 in favor of their designation.

Threatened Trio

Over the past two years, the Conservancy has been assisting three Catholic churches facing varied development pressures.

The Conservancy consistently has advocated for St. Brigid’s on Tompkins Square Park and St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Harlem. The Archdiocese has repeatedly rejected market-rate offeres that would convert the buildings for community use while preserving the historic architecture.

We recently commissioned respected architectural authority David Garrard Lowe to write a piece on St. Brigid’s for
The New York Sun
in time for Saint Patrick’s day.

We are also working with the Archdiocese to protect Mother Seton Shrine in Lower Manhattan from further damage from nearby MTA construction.

What’s Next?

The Conservancy will complete our survey of Brooklyn’s 117 Roman Catholic Churchs in summer 2007. We will also begin to survey New York City’s Jewish Heritage sites.

We hope to next survey Catholic churches in Queens and synagogues and Presbyterian churches eventually.