Walking west on 12th Street from 3rd Ave, you probably wouldn’t give it a second glance: a stone church located midway down the block.
Coming from the opposite direction, however, you might notice something decidedly wrong with it. In short, the church has no…church.
While this isn’t a secret to most New Yorkers, the remnants of St. Ann’s Church is certainly one of the city’s stranger sights. Most of the church was torn down in 2006 to make room for the gorgeous example of Soviet-bloc-inspired architecture now residing in its place. Completely sealed up, the facade sits detached on East 12th Street, an orphaned relic.
The construction of NYU’s 12th Street dorm has had a very controversial history, detailed extensively in the press (check out Curbed.com for a full recap). Short version is: Brooklyn developer Hudson Companies purchased the land from the New York archdiocese in December ’04. Though the church itself was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Hudson tore most of it down before the designation could be made official.
Below, a Hudson Companies executive assists in the destruction of the church:
Hudson then purchased air rights from a nearby post office, allowing the construction of a building substantially larger than the church’s former height (a questionable transaction in itself, as the laws dictate that federal agencies must consider the effects of their actions on historic properties).
The dorm now towers 26 stories over the neighborhood, the tallest building in the East Village:
Hudson decided to build 50 feet in from the street and leave the church facade to make the dorm “less imposing.” I hate to offer anything that sounds like praise to a company like Hudson, so when I say I’m very grateful they did this, it’s sort like thanking Godzilla for sparing some small section of Tokyo.
Whenever I walk down 12th Street, seeing St. Ann’s now makes me reconsider exactly what it has become. Clearly, it can no longer be defined as a church…But what exactly is it?
If it’s any consolation, I think the demolition has indirectly elevated St. Ann’s to a sort-of post-modern sculpture, forcing a completely new way of looking at and thinking about the remaining structure. When a door leads from the outside to the outside; when a window simply acts as a filter for sunlight; when the exterior wall and interior wall are one and the same, you have no choice but to completely reevaluate the meaning and purpose of such a structure.
The church was built around 1847 and over the years has served as a place of worship for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish congregations. The French stained-glass windows were installed in the 1920’s.
The windows, as seen from the rear:
A beautifully colored cross:
No clue what happened to the steeple – all that remains is this ugly conical thing, which seems to have more in common with the building behind it:
The front doors, which are seemingly locked for good…
…as are the iron front gates:
Then again, some interior lights have been set up to illuminate the stained glass windows from within, suggesting that some access is possible.
While I get the need for additional housing for NYU students, and that fact that in NY, sometimes the only way to get things done is to just do it, the resulting building is simply not something to be proud of. I really wish the city would enact legislation that basically says: “if you tear something down, whatever you build has to be more beautiful than what you destroyed.” But you know, that would be silly, right?
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