The Case of the Missing Church Half

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.

Church 01

Coming from the opposite direction, however, you might notice something decidedly wrong with it. In short, the church has no…church.

Church 02

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.

Church 03

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:

GB024a - Peck

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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).

Church 04a

The dorm now towers 26 stories over the neighborhood, the tallest building in the East Village:

Church 05

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.

Church 06

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.

Church 07

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.

Church 08

The windows, as seen from the rear:

Church 09

A beautifully colored cross:

Church 10

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:

Church 11

The front doors, which are seemingly locked for good…

Church 12

…as are the iron front gates:

Church 13

Then again, some interior lights have been set up to illuminate the stained glass windows from within, suggesting that some access is possible.

Church 14

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?

-SCOUT

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12 comments

  1. it’s become just a gate or a wall. it reminds me of the gatehouse at greenwood cemetery a little bit in that way.

  2. In my opinion, it is terrible to have allowed that to happen!

  3. “if you tear something down, whatever you build has to be more beautiful than what you destroyed.”
    I love this idea! Contemporary architecture is the bane of New York (that’s not a rule, just a generalization) We’ve backtracked architecturally to make our city… not as nice.

  4. Wow, they turned St. Ann’s into a giant version of those little painted “town landmark” blocks that they sell in country gift shops …. how sad.

  5. The dorm that now sits on St. Anne’s could be nicer, I suppose. But on the whole I like how they preserved the tower and converted it to art. I find the steeple particularly striking. It reminds me of the West Berlin cathedral that was bombed out.

  6. Mwahaha, love the Evil Mr Stay-Puft!

  7. Oh, this is so beautiful little church and windows are made with great taste. Unfortunately i’ve not seen it before.

  8. Made me sad to watch that church get destroyed. Walked by it all the time when I lived in the East Village. Now get to see the destroyed version everyday when I get out of the Crunch that’s on the corner.

  9. 8Kanger: gentrification is a complicated issue, but its kind of ironic that you bemoan the bulldozing of the East Village as you duck into upscale corporate Crunch gym. Do you follow your workout with a stop at Jamba Juice?

  10. It’s sad to think that a wonderfull church just have to ignored. Hope it will be having a nice atmosphere in the future.

  11. While the NYU dorm building is just boring (why? why so much boring architecture? what happened to the “big plans to stir men’s souls”?), I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I love what they did to the church facade. I’m sure the place was nice when it was whole, but the impact of seeing just the facade is much more interesting and memorable. In a small way it’s reminiscent of the ruins of St. Paul’s in Macau (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruins_of_St._Paul's).

    Great website, btw.

  12. KPAPPAS@gtimports.net

    This Sunday I proudly dropped my niece off at 120 East 12th street for a special NYU college prep program. I was happy to share in her experience and hoping that this experience would possibly lead to her making NYU her college of choice.
    Upon arriving at 120 12th street I first thought I must be delusional and couldn’t possibly be seeing what I was seeing. After staring at the structure I realized yes! this horror before me was the facade of St Annes church ; and how an intitution such as NYU could participate in this callous destruction of NEW YORK history is incomprehensible .
    As a true New Yorker who grew up not far from and attended ST Anne’s I am sick to my stomach at the destruction of a building built in 1847.
    Who ever wrote “its like Godzilla leaving a little piece of Tokyo untouched” could not have said it better .
    To Godzilla NYU you could at least post information regarding the history of the structure , photos of what the structure looked like inside and out .
    The only thing this horror of a structure does is remind people who are truly a lovers of all that shld be considered beautiful art is how little we value our historical treasures .
    Sincerely ,a not so proud New Yorker a shamed of NYU.
    FYI :I have photos I would be only to happy to donate .

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