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St. Anthony of Padua

The following was originally posted by Drew Durniak.  It showcases one of the South Village’s most significant and historic presences both architecturally and culturally, St. Anthony of Padua. It is located at the corner of West Houston and Sullivan Streets at the north end of the third phase of GVSHP’s proposed South Village historic district.  The Shrine Church of Saint Anthony of Padua, stands proudly as the first Italian parish in New York State, the second Italian parish founded in the United States, the oldest existing Italian parish in the U.S. and the first parish church building built by Italian immigrants in the United States.

Last week, the City announced its plans to designate the third and final phase of GVSHP’s proposed South Village Historic District.  This designation is the culmination of a ten year campaign to confirm landmarks protections on this section of New York City, an area which contains an irreplaceable record of our city and country’s history, particularly its history of immigrants and innovators.

St. Anthony of Padua Church in 1930 (left) and today (right). 1930 image via NYPL.
St. Anthony of Padua Church in 1930 (left) and today (right). 1930 image via NYPL.

St. Anthony of Padua Church has stood on Sullivan Street in the South Village since it was designed and built in 1886 by Arthur Crooks. St. Anthony’s is America’s earliest extant Catholic church established to minister to Italians and served the South Village’s growing immigrant Italian population at the turn of the 20th century. Not much has changed in the 82 years since the left photo was taken, but did you know that the same church building pictured above at the corner of Houston Street used to be sandwiched between other buildings on its block?

Houston Street looking east toward Sullivan Street in 1930. Excavation for the subway lines resulted in a street widening. You can see the front of the same construction sheds in the main then-and-now photo at the top of this post. Image via NYPL.

Although today Houston Street is a wide east-west thoroughfare, it spent most of its early life as an unremarkable narrow New York City cross-street. It wasn’t until the early 1930s when construction for the IND subway line (now the A, C, E, D, and F) cut a swath through downtown (via Sixth Avenue and then turning eastward on Houston Street), that the wider street we know today was created. You can read all about the widening of Houston Street in an earlier Off the Grid post.

The street widening resulted in the demolition of buildings abutting Houston Street on both the north and south sides of the street along the subway’s path. At Sullivan Street, the buildings to the north of St. Anthony’s were razed, and as a result, St. Anthony’s church building gained a prominent spot on the “new” corner of the block.

St. Anthony of Padua is one of several institutional buildings in the area that served the needs of new immigrants throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and is part of the South Village Historic District that GVSHP proposed to the city for landmarking.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the third phase of the proposed South Village Historic District is now being pushed ahead by the City towards designation, ensuring landmark protections for St. Anthony’s and its neighbors.  To learn more about the landmarking of this district, click here.

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