Church Representative Opposes Designation [UPDATE: Church Designated]

Church of St. Paul the Apostle, 8 Columbus Avenue, Manhattan. Image Credit: CityLand.

Church of St. Paul the Apostle, 8 Columbus Avenue, Manhattan. Image Credit: LPC.

See below for update.

Medieval Revival-style Catholic Church served as home for the Paulist Fathers. On June 11, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the potential designation of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, at 8 Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. The church, at the corner of 60th Street, was primarily constructed during the period between 1875 and 1885. The upper parts of the church’s two imposing towers were completed in 1900, and a decorative bas-relief mural was installed over the church’s entrance in 1959. Landmarks initially considered the church for designation in 1966, but no action was taken at the time.

The church was commissioned by the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, known commonly as the Paulist Fathers. The order was established in 1858, with the goal of serving as missionaries to Protestant Americans. The group’s initial Upper West Side parish soon proved inadequate, and a new church was commissioned. Architect Jeremiah O’Rourke, based in New Jersey, conceived the design for the church but was replaced on the project by Paulist priest George Deshon in the early 1880s. The building is faced in granite, some of it salvaged from other Manhattan structures.

In the early 1970s, facing bankruptcy, a proposal to demolish the church and replace it with a residential development was considered. Ultimately, however, the church only sold its development rights, and a portion of its lot. The church has recently been undergoing a major restoration.

A representative of State Senator Brad Hoylman read a statement urging swift designation of “this extraordinary piece of our heritage.” He stated that “in the context of rapid urban development on the Upper West Side … it is time for LPC to act.” A representative of Manhattan Community Board 7 also spoke in support of designation of the neighborhood’s “calming anchor,” which she said had long been known as a significant structure worthy of preservation. Rachel Levy of Landmark West! said the church’s architecture evoked “a sense of solidity and strength,” and said that designation should have taken place before the church could sell its air rights. The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams, noted that though the interiors of religious structures are ineligible for landmarking, the church contained the work of a “who’s who array of Gilded Age New York artists,” including Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that local Council Member Gale A. Brewer also communicated her support of designation to Landmarks.

Diane Macon, business manager for St. Paul the Apostle, spoke in opposition to landmarking, arguing that it would add to the church’s financial burden at a time when “contributions are dwindling.” She asked that the record be held open so that the pastor, Father Gilbert S. Martinez, CSP, could submit a statement detailing the church’s opposition to the designation.

Chair Tierney agreed to hold the record open for seven days, and closed the hearing without commissioner comment.

Update (6/26/13): On June 25, 2013, Landmarks voted to designate the church an individual City landmark. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter, who called the church “a very remarkable structure,” took the opportunity to expound on the church’s recovery from near-bankruptcy in the 1970s through the sale of its air rights. Perlmutter called the availability of salable development rights “a fantastic preservation tool.” Commissioner Christopher Moore found the building to possess a “fascinating history.” Commission Libby Ryan drew attention to the fact that a significant work of art – the bas-relief mural – was added to the building long after its initial construction, and that Landmarks should remain open to such modifications.

The vote for designation was unanimous.

LPC: Church of St. Paul the Apostle, 8 Columbus Ave., Manhattan (LP-2260) (June 11, 2013).

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