Monday, February 07, 2005

Cathedral of St. John the Divine is in peril

[just rec'd:]

Dear Friends,

As you know, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is in peril. Negotiations are underway with private developers and with Columbia University to bring massive for-profit construction onto the Cathedral Close, construction that would desecrate this magnificent, historic, sacred site.

The Morningside Heights Historic District Committee has nominated the Cathedral for inclusion on the National Trust's 2005 list of eleven most endangered historic places. Should the Cathedral be selected it would be an enormously helpful first step in creating national awareness and concern for this greatly treasured destination of worldwide significance.

The National Trust invites letters of support for nominations to this list. We ask you to join us in making the case for protecting the Cathedral. Please direct correspondence to the following address:

National Trust for Historic Preservation
Office of Communications / 11 Most Endangered
1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036

We would very much like to have a copy of your letter.

Please forward this message to friends.

(You will find below a very concise summary detailing the site's significance, the threat posed, and a possible solution. This served as the introduction to our lengthy application and might be of use to you as a guide.)

Carolyn Kent

Morningside Heights Historic District Committee
PO Box 250344 Columbia Station
New York, New York 10025
Tel: 212.866.6058
Fax: 212.665.8535 (if busy please call above number)


Sited on the crest of the escarpment rising from the Harlem plane to form the south-eastern boundary of Morningside Heights, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is the nation's most magnificent ecclesiastical structure. It merits designation as a National Historic Landmark. One of the world's largest churches, this intricately symbolic work of art and faith sustains within its soaring heights an expressive vitality confirming the extraordinary genius of its architects and builders, George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge, 1891-1911, Ralph Adams Cram, 1911-1942. Its transepts, frontal and crossing towers still unfinished, the Cathedral nevertheless offers the new world's most significant reception of the Western Gothic.

Grouped within the southeast portion of the Close, four distinguished ancillary buildings designed and built 1909 - 1914 by the Cathedral's architects, joined by the firm of Cook & Welch, explore diverse Gothic styles at a more intimate scale.

Cathedral and Close are urgently threatened by the Cathedral leadership's plan to bring in massive new construction. Negotiations are fully underway with private real estate developers and with Columbia University. The suggested scale for new construction, as shown by Cathedral Corporation maps, attached, would crowd, darken, and screen the Cathedral from view, dwarf the fine ancillary buildings, and block their open sky. Modern materials and designs would intrude upon the turn-of-century site whose architecture looks back to the 13th century, and large segments of the Close would be turned over to non-religious enterprises.

Local community, Community Board, City Council and NYC preservation advocacy concern has as yet had little impact on these negotiations. The National Trust can greatly assist in persuading the Episcopal Church leadership not to resort to private development but to reach out to the abundant wider resources available across the nation to preserve the national interest in this perfectly intact site.

Carolyn Kent for the Morningside Heights
Historic District Committee

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