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Saving Sacred Spaces

After a nearly half-century wait, last week the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission finally voted to approve landmark status for the 150-year old religious building located at 334 East 14th Street, now the Tifereth Israel Town & Village Synagogue, and prior to that a German Baptist and a Ukrainian Autocephalic Church.

Tifereth Israel Town & Village Synagogue

Ironically, the Commission’s decision was followed soon after by an announcement by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York that it will be consolidating and closing churches across the five boroughs, including nine churches in Manhattan that will be closed for regular worship. The future of these churches remains unknown, but Cardinal Dolan did not shy away from discussing the potential selling of these properties. According to the New York Times, 42 parishes have been consolidated since the mid-1960s.

We thought we’d use the occasion of both of last week’s announcements to take a look at some of the historic houses of worship which GVSHP has been able to help protect over the last several years, and those which have been lost.

First, the good news.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection:

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Photo by Barry Munger. Olivet Memorial Church/now Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, (J.C.Cady, 1891)

In 2008, GVSHP and East Village community groups were able to help ensure that a proposed eight story condo was not built atop the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection at 59 E. 2nd Street. GVSHP and allies were able to get the proposed East Village/Lower East Side Historic District (since designated) expanded to include the building, which has as a result enjoyed landmark protections since 2012.

Congregation Mezritch Synagogue

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Former Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Ansche Ungarn Synagogue, 242 East 7th Street (Gross & Kleinberger, 1908), designated 2008.

Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezritch Synagogue, or Congregation Mezritch Synagogue, was founded in 1888 on the Lower East Side, and constructed its current temple at 415 East 6th Street in 1910. The handsome neo-classical building was one of the Lower East Side’s many “tenement synagogues,” so named because they filled narrow lots sandwiched between tenements and served the poor immigrants who populated the surrounding buildings. While a few such tenement synagogue buildings remain in the East Village, including the former Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Anshe Ungarn Synagogue at 242 East 7th Street which was also landmarked by the City, Congregation Mezritch Synagogue appears to be the sole remaining operating tenement synagogue in the East Village, and thus is an important link to what was once perhaps the most significant Jewish community in America.

St. Veronica’s Roman Catholic Church

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St. Veronica’s Roman Catholic Church, 155 Christopher Street (John Deery, 1889), Greenwich Village Historic District Extension I/Far West Village Extension, designated 2006;

In 2006, after a three-year campaign by GVSHP, the Greenwich Village Historic District was extended to include several blocks in the Far West Village, including St. Veronica’s Roman Catholic Church.  Read more about the history of this structure.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the houses of worship which we have been able to protect through landmark designation, though we have a lot more work to do in this regard. If you would like to find out more about other religious sites and buildings we have been able to get landmarked in our neighborhood, check out the “Eccelsiastical Structures” section of our report “Ten Years, A Thousand Buildings, a Hundred Blocks”.

Of course, over the past decade, we have lost some very important and historic religious structures as well.

St. Anne’s Church

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St Anne’s Church before demolition, a former Roman Catholic parish church at 110-120 East 12th Street between Fourth and Third Avenues

In 2005, St. Anne’s Church was demolished and replaced by a 26-story dormitory for NYU. Today, only the empty tower of the former church remains standing on the lot in front of the new building.

The Church of Mary Help of Christians

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The Church of Mary Help of Christians

Mary Help of Christians was a 100 year old church at 436 East 12th Street with an incredible history connected to the East Village’s immigrant roots. In 2013, Mary Help of Christians Church, rectory and school was demolished and to make way for luxury housing and retail space which is yet to be built.

GVSHP is currently working to get “Phase III” of our proposed South Village Historic District designated, which includes St. Anthony of Padua Church, the oldest extant Italian-American Church.  To find out more and help get it designated, click here.

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