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.”


Landmark church in peril

They’re praying for the immaculate construction.

Preservationists hope a Manhattan developer set to buy one  of Harlem’s most beautiful churches will save it.

St. Thomas the Apostle Church on West 118th Street  (pictured) has sat empty for nine years since the New York Archdiocese shuttered  it in 2003.

Efforts to landmark the hulking neo-Gothic structure built  in 1907 failed, and the building, which was recently covered in scaffolding, has  been in limbo ever since.

The archdiocese is in contract to sell the property and two others to Artimus Construction in a $6 million deal, according to papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.

The documents give no hint of Artimus’ plans. The  archdiocese declined to comment.

Peg Breen, of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, praised  Artimus Construction. “If this developer is true to its track record, it could  be very good news,” she said.

But locals were less sure of the impending sale, which  requires court approval.

“I presume they’re selling it to knock it down,” said  Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council.

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/landmark_church_in_peril_9A2LfAMBkIjRspUI0sZOmN#ixzz1y3UkNj32