Volume 74, Number 43 | March 02 - 08, 2005

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Sarah Cogan and Doug Evans were the winning bidders on a unique finial with a whimsical elephant carving.

Everybody must get stones: Church auctions for spire


By Jefferson Siegel


The sidewalk sheds have come down as the restoration work on the 230-ft. Grace Church spire has finally concluded.


Near the conclusion of a 2 1/2-year-long restoration project, as the scaffolding dismantling began, workers made one last check of the integrity of the spire stones. They found eight finials that had suffered water damage. Rev. J. Donald Waring, rector of Grace Church since last summer, called this discovery the “$50,000 hiccup” in the restoration project. The church was faced with a dilemma; to fix the damaged stones or to replace them with nearly identical, newly carved finials. The old stones weighed 700 pounds each, posing weight, design and cost considerations. Reverend Waring said the church made a “75-year decision” to replace them. Newly carved pediments and smaller, lighter finials were created.


Reverend Waring explained the importance of the restoration project. “Grace Church has been an anchor of the neighborhood since before the neighborhood was here. Built in 1844, this was the farther reaches of suburbia.” The church is recognized as a Gothic-style masterpiece. “Grace is considered by architects to be one of the 10 buildings in Manhattan to preserve at all costs,” Waring said. “People’s spirits are lifted when they come inside.”


The church had already spent over $2 million on the spire’s renovation. Officials came up with an ingenuous solution to pay for the surprise repairs that were still needed while enriching the lives of local congregants. Last Thursday night, they held an auction of the old stones.


At the auction, Robert Bates, the restoration architect, outlined details of the completed work, pointing out specific stones from the spire that would be auctioned. The auction catalog was enriched by the addition of 16 oil-on-linen paintings by Gael Mooney, a church member.


Bob Martini, a member of the sponsoring Men’s Group of Grace Church, was the auctioneer, his booming bass and wry patter commanding everyone’s attention.


One by one, images of stones and paintings appeared on a screen. One by one, the hammer came down on progressively higher bids: $600, $1,000, $1,500, $2,000.


One of the most unusual pieces was a carved finial stone in the shape of an elephant. The successful bidders were Doug Evans, chairperson of Grace Church School, and his wife Sarah Cogan, a lifetime Village resident. Evans thought it would be a valuable addition to the school because of “The fact that the students can find this fun in the church.” The unique stone was carved frivolously because the sculptor knew it would not be seen from the outside.


Mike Johnson, the church’s communications director, estimated at least 100 people braved the snow to attend the evening’s festivities.

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