Historic preservation fights in New York City are legendary, starting with, of course, the destruction of the original Penn Station in 1963, which became the impetus to form New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has the power to save buildings by designating them historically significant. There have been plenty of complaints lodged against this powerful agency (sometimes for stifling legitimate adaptive reuse, other times for refusing to consider buildings historically significant, as in the infamous case of 2 Columbus Circle, or the Lollipop Building). But the fact is, if you want to save a historic building, this is where you have to go.
St. Brigid’s Church, on Tompkins Square Park, is one such building that teeters on the edge of destruction, despite its historical significance to the Irish community in New York in general and the East Village in particular. Many Irish immigrants escaping the Great Famine settled in the area then known as the Dry Dock District (from the East River to Avenue B, Houston to E. 12st) who worked in the shipyards on the East River. To serve this community, the cornerstone for the church was laid on E. 8th and Avenue B on Sept. 10, 1848. It is possibly the oldest church still standing that was designed by Patrick Keely, an Irish immigrant himself who settled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and went on to build approximately 600 churches from South Carolina to Canada.
The people who have been trying to save the church averted disaster over the summer when it was discovered that demolition had begun in the middle of the night. The preservationists scored a victory when the demolition was temporarily halted until a ruling is made on the technical ownership of the church. That ruling hasn’t yet been issued (although its expected any day now). In the meantime, there is a drive to gather signatures to pressure Lankmarks to designate it a historic structure, for which it clearly qualifies. Whether or not that designation will be obtained in time to save the church from destruction is very much in question.
To learn more about the effort to save St. Brigid’s, click here.