Church to Become Community Center
By Conor Greene
The reconstruction of St. Saviour’s church can move forward now that nearly $2 million in city funds has been allocated for the effort, according to the Juniper Park Civic Association, which led the effort to prevent the historic building from being demolished.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall has allocated $1,450,000 in the city’s capital budget for the first phase of St. Saviour’s reconstruction and restoration, announced JPCA President Robert Holden at his group’s meeting last week. In addition, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) secured an additional $500,000. The church will be rebuilt on donated land in Middle Village for use as a community education, cultural and performance center that integrates aspects of “green technology.”
The church, designed by renowned architect Richard Upjohn, stood on a hill in Maspeth for 160 years until the owner of the Rust Street property decided last year to demolish the building and ready the site for development. With the church minutes away from the wrecking ball, Holden convinced to owner to give the JPCA one month to dismantle the building and remove it from the property. A group called Save St. Saviours, Inc. was created, and the 1847 Carpenter Gothic structure was painstakingly labeled and packed in two trailers for storage with assistance from experts including the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
While the JPCA also pushed for the city to preserve the St. Saviour’s property along with the building itself, officials were unwilling to pay $10 million for the land. Holden said that the civic group is “still trying to convince Mayor Bloomberg that the historic St. Saviour’s property in Maspeth” should be acquired for a public park. “Although it’s a long shot we have not given up hope in returning the church to its proper location.”
Instead, Dan Austin, president of All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, has donated a small plot of land that is unsuitable for burials to serve as the building’s future home. Assuming the city doesn’t pursue acquisition of the Maspeth property, St. Saviour’s will be reassembled at 69th Street and Juniper Valley Road. “Juniper Civic has worked extremely hard to save St. Saviour’s for so long, and we would be honored to have such an historic building on our property,” said Austin.
At JPCA’s meeting last Thursday, Holden called allocation of the funding “a milestone” and reminded the crowd that “St. Saviour’s was just minutes – literally minutes – from demolition… We were all out there preparing for the worst, and then the miracle happened,” he said. He noted that there currently are no official landmarks or historic buildings in Maspeth or Middle Village. “This is fantastic news and another chapter in the miraculous story of St. Saviour’s,” he added in a statement released this week.
“I am pleased to lend this vital support to the Juniper Park Civic Association that provides frontline services to the residents of Queens and our city,” said Marshall.
Crowley noted that the funding came at a time when city council members had to work hard just to restore funding for critical services such as firehouses, education and libraries. “Furthermore, I am proud to announce that we were able to secure $500,000 to reassemble, restore and transform St. Saviour’s into a green and sustainable building,” she said. “This is a huge victory for the people of Queens, especially for those living in Maspeth and Middle Village.”
Under phase one, the new site will be graded and the building’s frame and roof will be reconstructed for use as an open air performing arts center. The exterior walls will be closed in and the interior will be finished during phase two, at which point the building will be available for use as a community center. According to Holden, phase one could begin as early as next spring, with the project taking up to three years to complete. In all, the two phases are expected to cost a total of $4 million.