Landmark Harlem Church in Limbo

 Roman Catholic Church of All SaintsFor parishioners of the Roman Catholic Church of All Saints, the 135th anniversary Mass earlier this month had the feel of a festive family reunion.

Pews in the Harlem church, which were dressed with jaunty white bows, were packed more than usual, studded with many parish old timers. Gospel voices soared to the heights of the Gothic Revival rafters. A favorite pastor returned to preside over a rapturous, laughter-filled Mass. And afterward, the congregation mingled over home-cooked food.

Still, by every account, All Saints—the so-called St. Patrick’s of Harlem—is on the precipice of closure.

After years of discussions, and with the guidance of an outside consulting firm, the Archdiocese of New York announced on Nov. 2 its list of more than 50 churches that will combine with another.

But those mergers account for only about 85% of the decision process. The remaining determinations, according to Cardinal Timothy Dolan , are now being sorted out for a March deadline, leaving a dozen area churches in limbo.

Among those left hanging are All Saints and four neighboring parishes comprising the central Harlem cluster: Church of St. Charles Borromeo, St. Mark the Evangelist, St. Aloysius and St. Joseph of the Holy Family. Tied together, these parishes now await further direction from the cardinal and will learn their fate in the coming days.

Based on written recommendations made over the summer by the cluster and presented to the archdiocese during the larger planning process, All Saints will likely be the church to fold, leaving parishioners in need of a new spiritual home and the future of its storied building an open question.

Designed by the same architect responsible for New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Grace Church, All Saints’ Italian Gothic Revival structure was begun in 1883.

The massive church complex, which includes a rectory and a now-closed school, spans a city block along Madison Avenue from 129th to 130th streets. After a push by parishioners and preservationists, it received city landmark status in 2007.

While All Saints is surrounded by blocks that have benefited from decades of revival, the neighborhood’s real estate activity hasn’t bolstered the church, nor filled its pews.

Current and past church leaders agree the landmark status was essential to save the property, but the building remained far from preserved or maintained. Major renovations haven’t happened in 50 years, according to parishioner Lorraine Adams, a Harlem resident and a member of All Saints parish council.

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West Harlem church renovation plans met with concern, optimism

Community members and preservationists are concerned that the 109-year-old St. Thomas the Apostle Church, known for its unique architectural design, could be demolished or otherwise harmed in a redevelopment.

David Brann / Senior Staff Photographer

David Brann / Senior Staff Photographer

It’s easy for passersby to overlook St. Thomas the Apostle Church, on the corner of 118th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, which, covered by scaffolding, looks like any other West Harlem construction site.

But community members and preservationists are still concerned that the 109-year-old structure, known for its unique architectural design, could be demolished or otherwise harmed in a redevelopment.

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Harlem resurrection

Rebirth of grand

They’ll be raising the roof in this Harlem holy house again.

A developer finalized a deal last week to buy the long-shuttered St. Thomas the Apostle Church, and he plans to save the historic façade while converting the interior into community space.

GLORIOUS PAST: Top left, St. Thomas Church in its heyday and, above, awaiting a $2 million rehab job.

GLORIOUS PAST: Top left, St. Thomas Church in its heyday and, above, awaiting a $2 million rehab job.

The West 118th Street parish was down to just 36 families when the Archdiocese of New York decided to close the hulking, deteriorating structure in 2003, stripping out the storied stained-glass windows, pipe organ and altar.

Efforts to landmark the Thomas Poole-designed building, constructed in 1907, failed, and the church, which has been covered by scaffolding for years, has sat in limbo ever since.

It stayed that way until Ken Haron of Artimus Construction was able to purchase the church, rectory and another plot for $6 million.

Haron says about $2 million is needed to outfit the church for community use that could include a 200-seat performance space.

Haron said he hopes to turn the space over to the Mama Foundation, which specializes in the arts and musical performance.

After years of neglect, only about half of the now-deconsecrated church can be saved. The rear half will be razed for an outdoor yard.

The adjacent rectory, with its cast-iron fireplaces and stained-glass windows, will be turned into a condominium, said Haron, who built one of Harlem’s first new condo buildings across from the church a decade ago.

Haron will also create a 70-unit, 12-story, mixed-income residential building at the rear of the St. Thomas property. It could take up to four years to complete the project.

“We’re trying to . . . restore the façades of [the church and rectory] so the streetscape looks like it used to 100 years ago, more or less,” he said.

It will take “many millions” to repair the damage done to the building, said Haron, who declined to specify the costs of the repairs but plans to reuse much of the intricately carved ornamentation in the reconfigured building.

“If you had seen it before and you walked in now, your heart breaks,” Haron said of the once-pristine house of worship. “But if you hadn’t seen it before, and you walked in now, it’s still a wow.”

Haron’s plans met with approval from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, which has been eyeing the site since its closure.

“The community has loved this building and held it in high regard for years,” said conservancy president Peg Breen. “It’s not everything that the community asked for, but it’s a lot. It’s time that everybody work together and make sure there’s a viable tenant.”