One of the most charming things about the massive cathedral towering over Morningside Park is St. John the Divine's never-finished status—the church has been under construction for 120 years and craftsmen still are adding to the stonework and structure of the building. That state of perpetual construction, however, has cost the building and its surrounding grounds landmark status and protection. Now the church has leased some of its land (known as "the close") to AvalonBay Communities to build a residential structure on the cathedral campus right next to the church. Don't expect any Tudor City knock-off. AvalonBay's project "will respect the architectural legacy of the cathedral, but anything designed and built will be 'modern' and not neo-Gothic or a mini-cathedral," the Very Rev. James Kowalski, the cathedral's dean, told The Wall Street Journal. Several years ago, Avalon Bay constructed a 20-story rental tower on the southeastern edge of the church's 11.3 acre property at 110th Street. Current plans are underway to build a 15-story tower on the north development site at 113th Street overlooking Morningside Park.
Back in 2003 there was an effort to get St. John the Divine and the cathedral campus designated a historic landmark, but disagreements about severing the church and the close led to a battle between the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg that the latter has not had to suffer since the rookie days of his first term. Here's how it went down:
· The Landmarks Preservation Commission wanted to landmark the church, but divorce the building from its grounds.
·> The City Council, led by Morningside Heights resident and councilman Bill Perkins, rejected that recommendation to separate the building from the surrounding land.
·>> Mayor Bloomberg vetoed that Council rejection of the LPC proposal.
·>>> Then the Council overrode Bloomberg's veto of the council's rejection of the LPC recommendation.
Whew! Sounds like exciting days. The end result, however, was that it left St. John the Divine and the surrounding campus without any landmark status whatsoever. Church restrictions placed on Avalon's building size, means that there will not be a replica of the 20 story tower Avalon built on 110th Street directly next to the cathedral.
· Unfinished at The Cathedral [WSJ]
· Worldly, Meet Other-Worldly [NYT]
· St. John the Divine coverage [Curbed]