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How Architectural Salvage Became a DIY Uptown Church

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Here now, writer Benjamin Waldman returns to the pre-Landmarks Preservation Commission era to discuss how pieces of two demolished Manhattan buildings came together to make something new.

The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, located at 467 West 142nd Street, is an architectural dumpster diver’s masterpiece. Its façade was constructed utilizing two tasty, but discarded ingredients—remnants from the demolished A. T. Stewart Mansion and National Academy Building.

The first ingredient came from A. T. Stewart’s 1870, John Kellum-designed Fifth Avenue mansion. In 1823, Alexander Turney Stewart arrived in New York City as an immigrant and by the mid-century mark was one of the wealthiest men in New York. Like any good-minded nineteenth-century mogul, Stewart poured money into a Gold Coast mansion. The Stewart Mansion, located at the corner of Thirty-Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, lasted until 1901 when it was razed by the Knickerbocker Trust Company.

Modeled on the Doge's Palace in Venice, the 1865 National Academy of Design Building, which is considered to be one of the greatest architectural losses in New York City, provided the second ingredient to complete this architectural recipe. Peter Bonnett Wight designed the building in a polychromic, High Victorian Gothic style. By the turn of the nineteenth-century, the Academy moved uptown, and in 1901, its building was also demolished.

Also in the year of our Lord 1901, the Reverend Joseph McMahon was tasked by the Roman Catholic Diocese with setting up a church in the newly designed parish of Our Lady of Lourdes. Determined to create a more opulent structure than his budget allowed, McMahon successfully channeled his inner Martha Stewart. Employing a form of DIY architecture that was unheard of in his day, McMahon carefully mixed his two ingredients until he created an architectural gem.

The lower facade and eastern wall of the church were salvaged from the National Academy Building and the upper facade and pedestals that flank the exterior staircase were recovered from the remnants of the A. T. Stewart Mansion. The church was completed in 1904 with the assistance of the architect Cornelius O'Reilly, and was landmarked by the City in 1975.
?Benjamin Waldman