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Groups Rally to Preserve Historic East Village Church, and Protect 19th c. Cemetery Which May Still Lie Beneath

Press Release
For Immediate Release -- May 22, 2013



Call for Archeological Review of Former Cemetery on Site
To Prevent Disturbance of Human Remains By Demolition or Construction


Manhattan – The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, the Historic Districts Council, the East Village Community Coalition, and East Village residents held a rally and press conference today in front of Mary Help of Christians Church, 436 East 12th Street to call for the preservation of this historic, 100 year old church (see more historic information on the church and images HERE).  The church was made famous by Allen Ginsberg, who lived across the street from the church for more than two decades and included reference to the church in his poetry.

Recently purchased for development by Douglas Steiner of Steiner Studios, demolition permits have been pulled for the church, its 150 year old rectory, and its 90 year old school.  Local preservation groups had appealed to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to save the historic structures, long the center of the East Village’s Italian immigrant community, but they refused to consider it.  The site purchased by the developer contains a very large yard which would allow a great deal of space for new development without demolishing any of the historic buildings, but thus far the developer has refused to consider re-use of the buildings.  While a 2008 rezoning which community groups fought for prevents a high-rise from being developed on this site, current plans would replace all the buildings with new luxury residential development and retail space.

The church was formerly the site of the cemetery of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where thousands of people were buried starting in the early 19th century.  This was only the third and at the time the largest Catholic Cemetery in New York.  While the graveyard was moved to Calvary Cemetery in Queens in 1909, it is not known if all remains were removed and cleared from the site or if some still lie in burial underneath.  The preservation organizations have written to developer Douglas Steiner and the city’s Department of Buildings and Landmarks Preservation Commission to notify them that a very large cemetery was formerly found on this site, and calling for a complete archaeological evaluation of the site as required by law in such cases before any work proceeds, to prevent disturbance of any burial site or human remains which may remain here (see letter with supporting historic documents HERE).

Those gathered called upon Steiner to build upon the adjacent church yard which he owns and plans to develop, which has no structures on it, and which lies outside of the boundaries of the former 11th Street cemetery, rather than upon the site of the church, school, and rectory, which are historic structures and which are located atop the former cemetery (see aerial view HERE).

“It would be a tragic waste and shame if these beautiful buildings, so full of New York’s history, were demolished for expediency’s sake.  Their rich and intricate architecture cannot be duplicated, and would only be replaced by something much less distinctive and precious.  A smart developer would recognize that by preserving and re-using these historic buildings and building on the large adjacent yard, he would not only be doing a good deed, but creating an infinitely more unique and valuable development than simply bulldozing the entire site and starting anew,” said Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman.”

"Mary Help of Christians is certainly one of the most historic buildings in one of the most historic neighborhoods in our city and country. Starting in the early 20th century it played a central role in Italian American history, and the building still commands a very imposing architectural presence in the neighborhood.  By rallying we’re asking the developer- loudly -  to please respect the rich history and architecture of our neighborhood by saving our invaluable and irreplaceable historic church," said Lower East Side Preservation Initiative president Richard Moses.

"The church buildings are a testament to the Italian immigrant legacy in New York City and remain living monuments. As a community, we ask the developer to recognize the opportunity for incorporating these architecturally significant buildings into the new development. An innovate plan could make a unique and attractive site plan while honoring the history of the East Village," said Sara Romanoski, Managing Director of the East Village Community Coalition.


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