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Real estate record and builders' guide: [v. 90, no. 2312]: July 6, 1912

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^@^^^^111 JULY 6, 1912. ST. JOHN'S CHAPEL AND VARICK STREET WIDENING A Plan Proposed For Saving the Edifice From Mutilation—New York City's Best Elxample of Colonial Architecture—Would Use the Arcade For a Public Thoroughfare. POSSIBLY old St. John's Chapel can be saved from the consequences of widening 'Varick street. Thlrty-flve or forty feet cut oft the front of the edifice would sacrifice both the portico and tha spire, and leave nothing worth preserv¬ ing. So it is now being proposed, since the courts have said that the opposite side of the street cannot be widened in¬ stead, to let the portico stand and the sidewalk run under it, as has been done sometimes in other cities. The Scenic and Historic Preservation Society is op¬ posing the widening the street if it is to mutilate the church. The steps would have to go, but the CJorinthian columns could be saved with all the rest, and an architectural effect obtained that would be new to New ■york, by permitting the public to pass through the arcade. Both St. Michael's and St. Philip's churches at Charleston have been treated in this manner. As the floor of the porch of St. John's is now above grade, piers would have to be built under the columns. A movement has been started outside of parish officialdom to save the church from destruction by this expedient. Bor¬ ough President McAneny, who has had the proposal laid before him, is inter¬ ested but non-commital. If a general public desire should ibe indicated and the consent of Trinity Parish obtained, the Board of Estimate will be asked io work out the plan. On the part of the general public St. John's Chapel is admired for its archi¬ tectural beauty and revered for its his¬ torical associations. As for the parish- loners, some want it preserved and the others do not care. Under the direction of the vicar of St. Luke's chapel there is a celebration of the holy communion on Sunday mornings at seven-thirty in St. John's, but the congregation of St. John's has been consolidated with that of St. Luke's and all other services are con ■ ducted at St. Luke's Chapel, from which center all the parochial work is carried on. This fact of itself indicates the offl- cial attitude of Trinity Parish toward the old church, as having outlived its useful¬ ness under the changing conditions of a great city. So far as known the rector has not identified himself with the new effort to save the chapel. The records of the parish show that the plans for the erection of the chapel were accepted on May 12, 1803, and that the architects of record are John and Isaac McComb. The church was not built upon the site originally Intended, a change was caused by the discovery that a firm foundation could not be had with¬ out driving piles. It was finally decided to build "on the east side of Hudson Square." The building was finished and conse¬ crated in 1807. The total cost is said to have been $172,833. The organ was built five years later at Philadelphia and shipped by sea, but on the way the mer¬ chantman carrying it was captured by a British man-of-iwar lying in wait off Sandy Hook. It was afterward ransomed under a flag of truce for $2,000. The clock in the tower was built in 1814 by Henry Harris of London. The builders . of St. John's were Isaac McComb, T. C. Taylor, Henry Headley, Daniel Domi¬ niek. Prior to the completion of the City Hall, in 1812, St John's Chapel was one of the sights of the town. The stone columns were referred to in the public prints as "very genteel." The Corinthian capitals of these columns are supposed to have been the first carved out of stone in the city, if not the earliest example of the use of Corinthian capitals on the ex¬ terior of a building in this country. As may be supposed, a church so costly and graceful for its time was not erected in a desolate place. On the contrary, Rev. Dr. Dix termed it in his history of the parish "the court end of the town." The improvement of the waterfront with commercial erections was compatible with the maintenance of the interior parts as a swell neighborhood. Had it ■Varick Street. John McComb, Architect, ST, JOHN'S CHAIPEL. not been for the coming of the Hudson River Railroad it might have been kept as attractive as some other old churches have been, notwithstanding the immigra¬ tion of business interests into the neigh¬ borhood. But a railroad was more than most of the adherents of the beautiful chapel could stand. Values of a Park to Surronnaing; Real Estate. A heroic remnant of the congregation refuse to be dislodged, and a consider¬ able number come from a distance on Lord's Days to attend the early morning and only service held there. The social and financial knell of the neighborhood was rung when the park in front of the church was given up, forty years ago, for Commodore Vanderbilt's million. Montgomery Schuyler once said that the consent to the degradation was a most pitiful modern instance on the part of the church stewards of the worship of the golden calf; and one could not point to a more exact though inartistic effigy of the golden, or rather of the bronze calf, than the highly ridiculous "Van- derbilt bronze" set up for worship on the west side of the freight station. The value of a park as "a social anti¬ septic" was not so well understood in 1868 as it is now. 'With the park's elms and lawns retained, the high qual¬ ity of the neighborhood would have sur¬ vived, and real estate values with it. Turning the park into a freight sta¬ tion meant certain destruction to the quarter as a place of abode; but so eager was the city for the advantages to be gained from a railroad that whatever the barrier the congregation set vrp was to frail to stand against the Commodore's influence and tlie public clamor behind it ■Washington Squafe, a later social cen¬ ter, was also affected by the injection of railroad and allied interests into the community and would have fared alto¬ gether quite as poorly as Varick street had it not been for the retention of the park. From the history of all the down¬ town parks it can be learned that the presence of a park is of the highest im¬ portance to the maintenance of real es¬ tate values in the vicinity through the changes which the generations bring in a modern city. In the final development of the neighborhood, when the tide of Commerce has overcome all social oppo¬ sition, frontages on the square or park still command prices higher than any¬ where else in the vicinity. The park tends to preserve the best social atmos¬ phere until the best forms of business are ready to acquire the surrounding premises. The church lot originally measured 250 feet wide and 155 in depth. 'When St. John's had been completed, steeple and all, St. Paul's was still withtJut a steeple and was far from being as handsome and costly as St. John's. Old Trinity, the mother church, as it then was, was architecturally overshadowed by her two daughters, until rebuilt. Besides, the new church led a social migration to the lower 'West Side that was as notable in its time as the social upbuilding of ■Wash¬ ington Square, Gramercy Park and Madi¬ son Square later on. The whole front of St. John's is of ashlar, ■while the front of St. Paul's is of cheaper stucco. Moreover the "stone" columns in St. John's are real, while St. Paul's are only brick covered with stucco. The sides of both churches are of rubble, but instead of simple quoining at the angles, as in St. Paul's, the corners of St. John's are more expensively turned with cut-stone pilasters and have elabor¬ ate and expensive Corinthian capitals to match those of the portico. 'Whoever has he-'i n.i '•: the I -wer of St, John's I.:" also remarked the large size of the oak timhers cmi.osing the framework a-d fi^rtned the conclusion that here in,I( c.l is a Ini'I'ling that will stand. A city architect who has been further¬ ing in various circles the movement for preserving the building, while adm'ttiiig thit the \videning of "Varick street in cinnecti(m with the extension of Seventh a.'e.nue is an absolute nece.3si"y, ex¬ pressed his views on the architectural side of the question to this effect: "On grounds both 'scenic' and 'hlstdto'