Thursday, May 13, 2010

☞ PROTECT: St. Thomas the Apostle Church






The Neo-Gothic masterpiece known as the St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church on 118th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue has been under a veil of scaffolding and threat of demolition for the past seven years. Originally built in 1907, the church would initially serve a mostly Irish community at the start of the 20th Century. Almost a century later, St. Thomas would need over $5 million in restoration work and the archdiocese decided that it would rather tear it down and make way for a $7 million affordable housing project (which would have been mostly subsidized by HUD). Almost all of Harlem's prominent politicians and preservationist united in protest against its demolition and effectively blocked the HUD grant back in 2004. So now, the building is in limbo, long abandoned by the church that created it and sits frozen in a state of disrepair. Since St. Thomas the Apostle has not been declared an official New York City landmark, many fear that demolition by neglect may be the eventual fate of this historic piece of Harlem's early years. Archival photo courtesy NYPL

13 comments:

  1. Wouldn't affordable housing be the better option than an unused building?

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  2. It is a wonderful building but the fact of the matter is that shifting populations do render these huge churches obsolete.

    The best solution would be for another congregation to take it over but sadly it’s pretty much a white elephant.

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  3. New yorkers are spoiled by beautiful buildings they don't appreciate what they have. Anywhere else this would be historic
    If the city wants to make low income housing what about all the vacant buildings? I'm tired of this beauty being destroyed while burt

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  4. out building across the street from me sit vacant

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  5. Even those among us who aren't strict preservationists would think it a crime to tear down or neglect this church to the point of unsalvageable. This is prized architecture that would be lost forever and what a shame that would be. How wonderful it would be as a music performance space.

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  6. Living here for going on ten years one thing that hasn't changed is the general feeling of apathy toward historic buildings. In any other country the local council would fight tooth and nail to do something constructive with a building as beautiful as this. Up in Harlem the sense of general laziness and "if it doesn't affect me I don't care" is quite sad and baffling.

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  7. This beautiful building is worth saving. I have no knowledge of how a building gets landmark status - it's probably a difficult process. Does anyone know the steps involved? Does this building stand a chance of getting landmarked?

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  8. Sell the church to a private developer for luxury condos instead of affordable housing. Why? You stipulate that the church facade and building needs to remain and it would make for some awesome units.

    Only private developers have the cash to keep this building intact. In fact, you could probably stipulate 1-2 units for middle income which is much more needed in this city than low income units.

    Anyone know private developers? Contact them so they can broker a deal.

    Many buildings downtown including churches have been saved this way.

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  9. Sanou’s “We’re Episcopalian and maintain our churches” MumMay 14, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Anon 9.15. First thing to do is to contact Landmarks and ask.

    But I don't think that’s gonna help at this point. If it were approved they could throw up as many blocks to repurposing as they might be a saving grace to preserving the facade. Which must then be kept strictly as it was when the building was first built.

    But it's worth checking out, why not? Worth it just to stick it to the New York Diocese of the Holy Roman Catholic Church

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  10. There are some beautiful buildings downtown that are conversions from old churches. However, even if the developer can basically pick up the building for free, they'd need to find a way to revive the building AND build condos for well under than $500 psf. If I were a developer I'd want to be well under that given the condo inventory in Harlem. We may be at the wrong place in the real estate cycle. But it's a great idea if somebody could just hold off for a bit.

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  11. Thank you for this reminder. Unfortunately the Church cannot attend to every piece of real estate it has ever owned. Resources are not infinite. For there are wells to be dug in Ethiopia, trafficked children to be rescued in Mexico, hospitals to be managed in Chicago, AIDS patients to be cared for in jo'burg, classes to be taught in Mumbai, hot lunches to be served in Havana, rapes to be prevented in Bukavu, gardens to plant in Kabul. Though this does not excuse inaction. Nevertheless one might say the Church does its job maintaining its (many historical)buildings. There are, for example, near 400 churches in the Archdiocese of New York. And there are many hundreds more in the dioceses of Newark, Brooklyn/Queens, Bridgeport, Providence, Hartford, Boston ,and Albany, for starters. Most all are in very good or better condition.

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  12. August 25, 2010 Berlin, Germany

    That is surely very sad news!
    You have no right to tear down God´s House. In the fifty´s and sixty´s, I also attended Saint Thomas the Apostle School and Church. Remembering the School and the Church, I enjoyed a very strict but open-minded and thorough education. An education of which, that prepared me for the world. The Archdioceses of New York are apparently not capable to remember the main reason why St. Thomas the Apostle Church was erected in the first place. Yes! I would like to remind those you who may not understand. St. Thomas the Apostle Church and School was responsible for the development of many young men and women. Moreover, the fact that St. Thomas the Apostle School and Church through it´s at that time realistic understanding for its purpose as an educational and religious institution has turned out many successful personalities in Politics, Entertainment, Sports and Industry.
    I live in Europe now and I can assume that the St. Thomas the Apostle- School is no longer being utilized. That is also a shame. One should respect the fact that St. Thomas the Apostle through its operation as an Educational Institution and a House of Religious services has done quite a good deal in keeping this world spinning on its axis. It would be a great loss to tear down the church and have a true “House of God” disappear from the planet.
    From the non – religious or operational - educational standpoint, New York City has to retain its Landmarks, Places of Interest, etc. St. Thomas’s sightseeing value through its Neo-Gothic - Architecture really does symbolize the meaning of the holy place of worship. God´s House in the middle of New York City. Why tear it down?

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  13. I also went to this school and church and I can't bear to walk by it as it truly hurts. I remember the dwindling congregants, those raised Catholic leaving the religion and/or the neighborhood. There were die-hards who tried to save the church but it wasn't enough. It's so wonderful to see the architecture - but the church IS its people. Where have the families gone? Out of Harlem when we grew up after attending in the '60s and '70s. I still dream about St. Thomas school and I think - wow. But if the building should be taken down, it will always live on for those who experienced the beauty found in the stained glass windows or the follow students who graced it corridors. May the grace of God be with all those who experienced St. Thomas and all those who marvel at her beauty - even in disrepair.

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