St. Thomas the Apostle Church (Manhattan)


St. Thomas the Apostle Church (Manhattan)
The Former Church of St. Thomas the Apostle
General information
Architectural style Gothic Revival
Location New York, New York, USA
Coordinates 40°48′18″N 73°57′11.6″W / 40.805°N 73.953222°W / 40.805; -73.953222Coordinates: 40°48′18″N 73°57′11.6″W / 40.805°N 73.953222°W / 40.805; -73.953222
Completed 1907[1]
Technical details
Structural system Masonry
Design and construction
Client The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York
Architect Thomas H. Poole[1][2]

Church of St. Thomas the Apostle is a closed Roman Catholic parish church in New York City that has been threatened with demolition and been the subject of a landmarks preservation debate. The church is located at 260-262 W. 118th St., southwest corner of St. Nicholas Avenue, in Harlem, Manhattan.

The parish was established in 1889[3]; staffed by the Salesians of Don Bosco from 1979 to 2003; and closed in 2003 because of a diminished congregation and structural problems.

History

The parish was established in 1889 for Irish immigrants. Later German immigrants replaced the Irish; however, African Americans were originally directed to worship elsewhere.[1] Later the congregation became primarily African American.[1]

The present church was built 1907 to designs by Thomas H. Poole & Company, and dedicated the same year. The interior was noted for its remarkable fan vaulting and celebrated German stained glass (from the still operating studio of Mayer of Munich, famed stained glass makers for the Holy See and Catholic churches around the world). The AIA Guide to NYC describes the church as follows: “No name is to be found on this church, but its finely detailed neo-Gothic façade, prominently entered via a stairway and an arcaded porch, demands attention.”[4]

The church had many notable connections, including Harry Belafonte's family, who worshipped there; "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was said to have been baptized in this church; Hulan E. Jack, the first black borough president of Manhattan, was buried from here."[1]

Lacking funds, clergy, and students for its attached parish school, the Catholic Order of Salesians of Don Bosco assumed control over the church and school in 1979, and are largely assumed to have rescued the church, closing the school and reusing it as a community center/computer skills training facility for young women. The training center remained open after the church's closure.[2]

Closure and preservation campaigns

Many established churches in the neighborhood have lost their congregations to storefront churchs. In 2002, the church which was designed to seat 800 only attracted around 250 parishioners for Sunday Mass. At the same time, substantial facade repairs proved financially crippling. “The front of the church is covered with posters that read: ‘Don't be fooled by the present scaffolding! We are open. We are alive. We are growing.’ The posters call St. Thomas ‘the Catholic Church in Harlem with room for you!’”[5] In addition, there were dubious cracks in the main internal columns. The building was condemned in 2003 and the Salesians pulled out. Landmark protection has consistently been debated, as the church is considered one of the finest in Harlem, and demolition has been attempted at least twice.

The Archdiocese of New York has attempted to demolish the structure since the closure with the offer to replace the structure with affordable housing for the elderly.[6]

Similar to other similar Catholic churches in the city with stays of demolition, such as Manhattan's Our Lady of Vilnius Church, a number of strategies have been invoked to save St. Thomas. Lawsuits, widespread community and city protests, and concerned letters arriving from as far away as Germany have delayed demolition, although the city has been unwilling to bestow landmark protection. A letter writing campaign attracted a great deal of attention. The son of the German stained glass maker even wrote in support of keeping the stained glass with the original church. However, the stained glass was removed to the new Church of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in the upstate New York town of Lagrangeville.[7][8][9]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e "Church of St. Thomas the Apostle (Roman Catholic)."
  2. ^ a b J. Russiello, A Sympathetic Planning Hierarchy for Redundant Churches: A Comparison of Continued Use and Reuse in Denmark, England and the United States of America (MSc Conservation of Historic Buildings, University of Bath, 2008), p.163-164, 350.
  3. ^ Remigius Lafort, S.T.D., Censor, The Catholic Church in the United States of America: Undertaken to Celebrate the Golden Jubilee of His Holiness, Pope Pius X. Volume 3: The Province of Baltimore and the Province of New York, Section 1: Comprising the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, Buffalo and Ogdensburg Together with some Supplementary Articles on Religious Communities of Women.. (New York City: The Catholic Editing Company, 1914), p.376.
  4. ^ Norval White and Elliot Willensky, AIA Guide to New York City, rev. ed., (New York: Collier Books, 1978), 272.
  5. ^ Gray, Christopher (December 22, 2002), "St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 118th Street Near St. Nicholas Avenue; A ‘Wild Masterpiece’ From 1908, in Neo-Gothic Style", New York Times 
  6. ^ J. Russiello, A Sympathetic Planning Hierarchy for Redundant Churches: A Comparison of Continued Use and Reuse in Denmark, England and the United States of America (MSc Conservation of Historic Buildings, University of Bath, 2008), p.350.
  7. ^ J. Russiello, A Sympathetic Planning Hierarchy for Redundant Churches: A Comparison of Continued Use and Reuse in Denmark, England and the United States of America (MSc Conservation of Historic Buildings, University of Bath, 2008), p.164.
  8. ^ Parish History of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (accessed 4 Jan 2010)
  9. ^ The New York Landmarks Conservancy, "Sacred Sites: Historic Catholic Churches in Crisis" (Retrieved 5 May 2011).
  • Dunlap, David W. From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan's Houses of Worship. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.).
  • Gray, Christopher. “St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 118th Street Near St. Nicholas Avenue; A ‘Wild Masterpiece’ From 1908, in Neo-Gothic Style.” New York Times. 22 December 2002.

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