(RNS) — Middle Collegiate Church, the New York City congregation whose historic building suffered a devastating fire nearly three years ago, has received permission to remove the heavily damaged remnant of its 19th-century neo-Gothic façade.
The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, who leads the multiethnic church in Manhattan’s East Village, said the pending work is a mixture of “good news” and renewed grief about the loss of the building that was completed in 1892.
“All of us are going to have a revisitation of our sorrow,” she said in a Monday (Oct. 30) interview. “The façade looks like it survived but it really didn’t. There will be a new grief, I think, around that.”
The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission found that “the overall loss of historic fabric due to the fire, structural issues, damaged masonry, and woodwork, and the partial deconstruction required to make the site safe, will result in a building that no longer retains its own integrity as a building that contributes to the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District.”
After endorsing a “certificate of appropriateness” in January, the commission issued a related permit on Sept. 19 that was contingent on other city approvals. On Tuesday, the city’s Department of Buildings “issued a permit to the general contractor for the project, for the use of heavy machinery to perform the demolition work,” said Andrew Rudansky, the department’s press secretary.
Lewis said she hoped the demolition could begin in early November and estimated it could last a couple of months.
Some preservationist groups had expressed concern about the removal of the façade. Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, a local not-for-profit group, had said the demolition would hurt the “special character of this very important historic district.”
Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, told The Village Sun, an online publication, in January that the commission’s decision to grant the church’s request “may open the door to more demolitions and much less desirable uses than a new home for a church at this location and other landmarked sites.”
Lewis responded at the time that the church determined to rebuild a worship building on the same site. Negotiations with city officials took months longer than expected, she said this week.
Part of the plan agreed to with the city includes efforts to save some of the limestone and ironwork of the building to use in the new sanctuary that is the eventual focus of a fundraising campaign.
“We tried to save a couple of ornamental pieces that we hope we can repurpose in the new building,” Lewis said.
With the demolition approved, Middle Church, which is dually aligned with the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ, has two more phases of planning.