City’s second-oldest surviving religious structure designated an individual landmark. On September 19, 2017, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the Old Saint James Episcopal Church at 86-02 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens as an individual City landmark. Completed in 1736 for the Anglican community in the town then known a Newtown, the timber framed meeting hall featured a single tower and wood shingling. In 1848, the building was converted to a parish hall as the growing congregation moved to larger nearby church. The building was remodeled with Carpenter Gothic detailing in 1883 after the tower collapsed in a storm.
In the 20th century the church was re-clad, and much of its Gothic ornamentation was lost. It was restored to its shingle-clad 19th century appearance in 2004 with help from the New York Landmarks Conservancy through its Sacred Sites Program. Only one surviving religious structure in the City is older, the individually landmarked 1694 Friends Meeting House in Flushing.
The designation does not encompass the entire tax lot, it excludes a parking lot. A landmarked buffer of five feet surrounds the building to ensure that all facades remain publicly visible.
At an August 8, 2017, hearing, Real Estate Manager for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island Andrew Durbridge voiced cautious support for designation, saying the organization backed the preservation of the City and Episcopal Church’s heritage, but worried landmarking would drain funds that would otherwise be used to promote its ministry. Durbridge said the Diocese intended to redevelop a parking lot on the property, and renovate the former church building for community use.
Elected officials, preservationist organizations and community groups expressed wide support for designation.
At the September 19th meeting, Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan stated that Council Member Daniel Dromm had sent a letter to the commission supporting designation.
Srinivasan said the building possesses levels of significance in New York history meriting “recognition and protection.” She thanked the church and its congregation for their cooperation, and looked forward to “an ongoing relationship.” Commissioner Fred Bland marveled that an almost-300-year-old building antedating the Revolutionary War “out in the farmlands of Queens County” had survived to the present day.
Commissioners voted unanimously designate the property.
LPC: Old Saint James Episcopal Church, 86-02 Broadway, Queens (LP-2593) (Sept. 19, 2017).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).