Nearly four centuries ago, Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant, whose life has been the stuff of legend on account of his wooden leg and his role in losing New Amsterdam to the English, lived on a farm in the area we now call the Village. Generations later, his great-grandson, Petrus, bequeathed land for the construction of St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery (1799) on Stuyvesant Street. The church is thought to cover the exact plot of land on which the old Governor’s Bouwerie Chapel once stood, making it the oldest site of continuous worship in Manhattan. It’s rectory, constructed in 1901 by the renowned architect Ernest Flagg and transformed in 1999 to the Neighborhood Preservation Center, today houses GVSHP’s offices. It is rumored that on a dark and eerie night, one can hear Governor Stuyvesant tapping his leg in the attic.
I’ll miss a great deal about this building.
For one, to be surrounded daily by this much significant history is definitely surreal. The church grounds are laced with tombstones of prominent early New Yorkers. The famous Stuyvesant vault is under the church; it holds the remains of Peter and his heirs along with English Governor Sloughter. Walking through this landscape every day on the way to work is like a little motivational kick-in-the-pants – a reminder of why GVSHP is here. It makes the whole cause just feel absolutely right. And that’s not something that people always “get” right away when I tell them what I do.
See, historic preservationists are used to feeling somewhat alone in a crowd. In our wildest dreams, real estate developers would be required to rehab buildings instead of tearing them down, and an appreciation of context and history would dictate (or at least be considered a part of) all city planning. But things don’t always work that way, at least not in New York. That’s why what I’ll truly miss about the Neighborhood Preservation Center is the opportunity to share insight and common goals with the other like-minded organizations that share the space, including the Historic Districts Council, the St. Mark’s Historic Landmark Fund, and the dozens of other local and community groups who makes use of the space to meet and brainstorm innovative ways to make our neighborhoods better.
As a bonus, the Neighborhood Preservation Center is a preservation success story in itself, and an excellent example of adaptive reuse. Damaged by a fire in 1988, the building’s exterior underwent a much-needed restoration in 1993. Five years later, the St. Mark’s Historic Landmark Fund began the interior work to transform the center into the thriving and beautiful space that it is today. Readers, if you have never visited the Neighborhood Preservation Center, don’t hesitate to pop in to learn a bit about history, community, and how you can get involved in keeping the Village magical.