Volume 74, Number 47 | March 30 - April 05, 2005

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

St. Ann’s Church on E. 12th St.

Housing of the holy: Church to be luxury residences

By Albert Amateau

The facade and tower of St. Ann’s Church at 124 E. 12th St. is about all that remains of a house of worship that has gone through multiple transformations serving Protestant, Jewish and Catholic communities since it was first built in 1847.

But former parishioners, East Village neighbors and preservation advocates are still hoping to save the remnant of the unofficial landmark where Mass was celebrated for the last time on Jan. 16.

The church, built as the 12th St. Baptist Church with a facade of locally quarried Manhattan schist, was acquired in 1856 by Temple Emmanuel-El, a congregation of Reform Jews who remained there until they moved to Fifth Ave. at E. 65th St. in 1870, when St. Ann’s, a Roman Catholic parish on Astor Pl., acquired the building.

The interior was demolished and rebuilt in the French gothic style according to a design by Napoleon LeBrun. Over the years, the parishioners included luminaries like Alfred E. Smith, who became governor of New York State and ran for president in 1928, and Peter Maurin, founder of The Catholic Worker.

In 1929 the church was declared the National Shrine of St. Ann, dedicated to the mother of the Virgin Mary, but the parish later declined due to changing demographics. In 1977 the National Shrine of St. Ann was transferred to a new church in Metairie, La., a New Orleans suburb.

However, the Armenian Catholic community convinced the Catholic Archdiocese of New York in 1983 to give them the church for as long as they could maintain the building. But in recent years, the archdiocese had to cover maintenance expenses and the Armenian Catholics had to move in February of last year.

The archdiocese sold the property for $15 million to a developer based in Brooklyn, Hudson Companies. In February of this year, the archdioceses removed the carved white marble altarpieces, the statuary and the organ built in 1864 by Henry Erban to a diocesan warehouse in Staten Island.

Alan Bell and David Kramer, principals of Hudson Companies, said last week their plans to build luxury apartments on the site are still very general, but they have indicated that they are sympathetic to preservation concerns.

“They told us they would like to keep the facade and tower of the church but they warned that height and setback requirements in the zoning might prohibit that,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. While City Planning has confirmed that keeping the church facade and tower would violate zoning rules, Berman said he still hopes to find a way that would allow the developer to preserve the front of the church.

Berman said he is also asking the developers to salvage elements of the adjacent rectory at 110 E. 12th St. built as a rowhouse before the 1847 church.

In a letter to Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Robert Tierney, Berman said the rectory’s only major alterations are changes to the window lintels and the addition of a fourth floor and roof cornice in the 19th century.

Nancy Cosie, a longtime neighborhood resident who worshiped at St. Ann’s over the years, said she was devastated at the loss of the church that served so many diverse worshipers.

“We had the Armenian Rite and an Ecuadorian parish dedicated to Our Lady of Quinche in Ecuador,” Cosie recalled. “And since the late 1980s we had traditional Latin Masses at 2 p.m. on Saturdays — I think it was the only Latin Mass in Manhattan. The Armenian Bishop Tertzakian gave approval for them and for an English Catholic Rite that’s been celebrated here since the late 1990s,” Cosie said. “The Armenians spent about $500,000 fixing things like the roof and then they were evicted even though the archdiocese says they chose to move,” Cosie added.

The parish school at the rear of the church with a front on E. 11th St. was sold in the early 1980s and was converted into apartments.

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