Salvation for St. Saviour's?

(Credit: Urbanite)

The beautiful original wood is now exposed at St. Saviour's, an 1847 work by the noted

Richard Upjohn. Here's a photo gallery. (Photos by Robert Holden)

St. Saviour’s Church, a 19th-century wooden church in Queens that’s on the cusp of demolition, may itself finally have a savior.

Built in 1847 by master architect Richard Upjohn, who also designed the landmark Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, the Maspeth church has been at the center of a desperate campaign to save it since 2005, when Maspeth Development LLC purchased the site for a housing development.

Since then, very little has gone right for the church. Promised funding for moving it never materialized, its parsonage was torn down, and old-growth trees on the property were cut. But now, the developer has set aside his housing plans and has given the Juniper Park Civic Association, which has fought to save it, until late April to move the church off the property.

And in a heaven-sent development, a nearby cemetery, All Faiths in Middle Village, has agreed to give it a home. As the clock ticks, the biggest challenge now is who will pay to move it. The group had been counting on $1 million in city funding that never materialized.

“We can’t find the money and we can’t wait,” says Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park group. “We just want to get [the church] out of harm’s way.”

Representatives from Juniper Park are to meet Friday with building movers to determine costs and tactics for moving the church. The exterior vinyl siding was recently removed, revealing the church’s original wooden decorative shingles and other Gothic Revival details. Holden hopes if all goes as planned, the church might qualify for landmark designation.

“They’re going to be surprised when they see what we have. It’s going to be a real jewel,” Holden says. “I think this is going to be a rallying cry for a lot of groups not to give up.”

It’s a welcome turn of events after a years-long campaign by politicians, community advocates and preservationists staved off the demolition, bolstered with that reported promise of $1 million in funding that was to have been secured by former Republican Councilman Dennis Gallagher.

Moving the church has always been a possible way out, an option the advocates had hoped to fund with the never-obtained money. But now, the offer by All Faiths Cemetery represents the best shot yet for the church’s survival.

“I’ve been following this saga since it began, and they really ran out of options.” said Dan Austin Sr., president and chairman of All Faiths Cemetery. “It just so happens I have a location and I had the physical assets needed to accommodate the church.”

All Faiths’ legal status prevents it from paying for the move, but Austin said he foresees working with Juniper Park in the future to create a community resource should St. Saviour’s move to the cemetery grounds. A Lutheran church on the site burnt to the ground in 1977 and was never rebuilt.

Moving the church presents enormous challenges, requiring permits to dismantle utility lines and reroute traffic. If the church can’t be moved in its entirety it may be dismantled and reconstructed on its new site. Either strategy will be costly, but so will losing a significant Upjohn church, preservations say.

“Upjohn was an urban architect, so it’s highly unusual to have an Upjohn church in that setting,” said Colleen Meagher, manager of grants and technical services at the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “Usually we say moving a building compromises its context—but sometimes this is preferable to demolishing it.”

-- Lana Bortolot

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Here's a photo gallery. For more, check out coverage on Queens Crap.

Tags: st. saviour's , maspeth , juniper park civic association , queens , politics , parks , history , endangered nyc , development , architecture

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