Greek Revival: Gone But Not Forgotten in Our Neighborhoods
Village Preservation’s Greek Revival Bicentennial Storymap celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence, which began on March 25, 1821, and resulted in an independent Greek state in 1830. At the same time, an ocean away, Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo were rapidly developing. During this period, architects and builders in the neighborhood turned to Ancient Greece — newly representative of the ideals of independence and long a symbol of democracy as the world’s first — for inspiration. Walking throughout our lneighborhoods today, the Greek Revival style is ubiquitous, recalling this event and its international reverberations. While our Storymap celebrates many of our extant Greek Revival structures, it also recalls the great Greek Revival buildings we have lost over the years. Many but not all of these were demolished before the NYC Landmarks Law was enacted in 1965, and before subsequent landmark designations were established in our neighborhoods. Their stories, which reflect dynamic layers of history, also serve as a reminder of the many existing Greek Revival buildings in our areas that remain unprotected and therefore vulnerable.
Spring Street Presbyterian Church, 246 Spring Street
The Spring Street Presbyterian Church was founded in 1809, at which point prayer meetings were held in residences and business locations. Many of the materials that were used to build the sanctuary were salvaged from the recently-demolished Wall Street Presbyterian Church, including timbers, pews, and the pulpit. The cornerstone was laid on July 5, 1810, and the completed church was opened on May 6, 1811.
The church was well known for its abolitionist efforts. It had a multi-racial Sunday school — one of the first in the city — and welcomed Black Americans to full communion. Racial equality was radically preached here, and there was a rumor that Reverend Dr. Henry G. Ludlow officiated interracial marriage ceremonies. The church, along with other sites, was attacked and almost completely destroyed in the anti-abolitionist riots of July, 1834.
In 1836, the Spring Street congregation started over, erecting a glorious Greek Revival sanctuary that would flourish for another 127 years at this location. Temple front in its design, it had had two Doric columns at the front of its recessed portico beneath a full entablature and pediment. The design, like many Greek Revival churches of its era, drew directly on Greek temples as its model.
By 1963, the area in which the church was located had been given over almost entirely to industry. Down to fewer than 49 members, on December 14 the Presbytery of the City of New York voted to close the church. There were still hopes of fundraising to reopen the church, but in 1966 the abandoned building suffered a tragic fire. The structure was razed, and a parking lot was built over the site.
In the early 19th century, four burial vaults had been in use at Spring Street Presbyterian Church, which were the final resting place of approximately 200 congregants of the church. The vaults were permanently closed in 1843, and seemed to have been forgotten. That is until December of 2006, when the construction of the Trump SoHo began at the site, and the remains of the burial vaults were uncovered.
Construction was halted for a time for further investigation. The developers promised a proper re-burial, but it was only through the diligent efforts of Greenwich Village’s First Presbyterian Church that the remains of the congregants were finally given a new home in Green Wood Cemetery in 2014.
In November of 2017, the Trump Organization reported that the $450 million, 46-story hotel condominium was no longer going to be affiliated with them. The building, which still stands today, was subsequently renamed The Dominick.
326 & 328 East 4th Street
326 and 328 East 4th Street were originally part of a row of houses built between 1837 and 1841 in the Greek Revival style. These two adjacent buildings were remarkably intact with brownstone temple-like entryway surrounds and unusually florid ironwork around the stoop. In 2010, the New York State Historic Preservation Office agreed to Village Preservation’s request to find them eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Unfortunately, the City refused to landmark these structures, and what happened stands as a classic illustration of why New York City landmark designation is so important to protect our cultural and architectural heritage.
According to tax records from 1839, the first owner of 326 was Fickett & Thomas, a large shipbuilding company. The East Village housed many businesses and tradesmen associated with ship building and trade, since the East River was a significant part of the city’s thriving waterfront.
By 1928, 328 East 4th housed a synagogue that served a Hungarian congregation (Village Preservation’s research showed that the synagogue and its congregation played a significant role in Orthodox Jewish history, but the LPC was unmoved). The shul remained until 1974, when both buildings were purchased by the Uranian Phalanstery, which described itself as “an anarchist utopian commune for practitioners of art and cosmology.” The Uranian Phalanstery remained in the row houses until 2010, when tax liens were placed upon them and they were sold them developer Terrence Lowenberg. He applied for permits to add two stories to both structures.
Village Preservation and other preservation groups immediately urged the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to designate both structures. Village Preservation made the case for their designation based on their significant history that so clearly reflected the evolution of the Lower East Side and East Village over 170 years, as well as their intact Greek Revival facades and details. Despite widespread support from the community and elected officials, the LPC denied designation due to the buildings’ “loss of architectural features” and their “poor physical condition.”
With the alteration of the structures that followed, nearly all of the original Greek Revival details were removed, the facades were refaced, and the scale of the buildings was destroyed.
St. John’s in the Village Church, 224 Waverly Place
Standing from 1846 to 1971, this Greek Revival church was originally built as the Hammond Street Presbyterian Church. The original church was a monumental structure at this corner at West 11th Street and West 4th Street. The temple front portico on the West 11th Street façade featured four two-story Ionic columns supporting an entablature and pediment. It epitomized the severe but elegant beauty associated with the Greek Revival, which was often quite spare in its details and relied upon balance and proportion to make for harmonious designs. The new brick and stone structure is a modern take on the Greek Revival style, with its temple front homage on the Waverly Place façade, as opposed to the original building’s 11th Street orientation.
After a fire destroyed this neighborhood landmark on March 6, 1971, the current church building was designed by Edgar Tafel, a colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright, who also designed additions to First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue. It was the first new building approved by the New York City Landmarks Commission within the Greenwich Village Historic District designated in 1969. At a time when historicism in new designs was almost unheard of and architectural styles like Brutalism were ascendant, the design’s nods to Greek Revival precedents and models, while using modern materials, was unusual. On October 5, 1974, the first Eucharist was celebrated in the new Church of Saint John the Evangelist. The new building was dedicated on October 1, 1978, by the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr., Bishop of New York.
St. John’s in the Village Episcopal Church served as a pastoral safe haven during a critical time when many Christian communities turned their back on those who were suffering from HIV/AIDS. Its Open Door, begun by Reverend Samuel O. Cross, provided spiritual guidance to anonymous Villagers with HIV/AIDS from 1998 until 2017, offering acceptance, support, and spiritual counsel to HIV+ people as well as to their significant others, friends, and care-partners.
Third Unitarian Universalist Church/St. Benedict the Moor Roman Catholic Church/Our Lady of Pompeii Church, 210 Bleecker Street at Hancock Street
The Greek Revival church once located at 210 Bleecker Street stood where Sixth Avenue is now located from c. 1833-1926. It was erected on the corner of Downing, Hancock, and Bleecker Streets by the Third Unitarian Universalist Church. This Greek Revival structure was temple front in its design with four Ionic columns fronting its recessed portico and supporting a full entablature surmounted by a pediment. Along the sides of this free standing building were pilasters between the windows.
In 1883, the Third Unitarian Universalist Church sold the building to the African-American Roman Catholic Congregation of Saint Benedict the Moor, which later sold the property to Our Lady of Pompeii Church in 1898. St. Benedict the Moor was established in 1883 as the first Black Catholic church north of the Mason Dixon line. The area around 210 Bleecker Street was then a predominantly African-American neighborhood known as “Little Africa“.
In 1927, in order to extend Sixth Avenue south to Canal Street, the city tore down the church building, and the Our Lady of Pompeii congregation built and moved to its present church on the corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets. The building formally opened on October 7, 1928. The church’s architect was Mathew Del Gaudio, an Italian American graduate of Cooper Union active in his profession from 1905 until his death in 1960. Del Gaudio created a classically inspired building that would have reminded the earliest parishioners of Italy, with its shallow front steps and flat façade close to the street, its domed sanctuary, and its campanile (or bell tower). The figure on the roof is St. Charles Borromeo, patron saint of the order of priests that founded and staff Pompeii.
Church of the Nativity, 46-48 Second Avenue
An elegant Greek Revival Church designed by architect Davis & Dakin was built on this lot in 1832-33. In 1842, it was sold to the parish of the Nativity of Our Lord. The original structure consisted of a a temple front and a two-stage steeple. At the center were two engaged Ionic columns with three engaged square columns on either side. Above was an entablature and pediment with a stepped parapet above the pediment.
The parish was created in 1842 by the archdiocese to accommodate Irish immigrants pouring into the area. When the Jesuits took it over during the 1910s, they served a wave of Italian immigrants. The parish’s main claim to fame today is that Dorothy Day, the writer and social worker who founded the Catholic Worker movement, worshiped there for decades. In the 1950s, a Puerto Rican community joined the congregation, and in the following decades Dominican and Mexican parishioners joined as well. As of 2006, the church was 70 percent Hispanic.
The building was demolished in 1969 to make way for the 1970 modern concrete and brick Roman Catholic Church and rectory that exists on the lot today. The architects of the contemporary Church of the Nativity were Genovese and Maddalene.
Explore the Greek Revival Bicentennial Storymap
Village Preservation’s Greek Revival Bicentennial Storymap includes even more information on the neighborhood’s Greek Revival structures that are gone but not forgotten. These include the parish rectory of a sanctuary that served three of New York City’s main religions; a Greek Revival “House of Genius” that acted as a boarding house for writers, scholars, artists, and musicians; a church where the Children’s Aid Society was chartered; and a set of terrace row houses that were some of the earliest in New York City to have indoor plumbing, including hot and cold running water and toilets. Here you will also find an abundance of information on, and photos of, our neighborhoods’ existing Greek Revival buildings, and a section that outlines the style’s defining elements and details:
One response to “Greek Revival: Gone But Not Forgotten in Our Neighborhoods”
Wonderful article resource. Will keep. Thank you once again.