Avenue A church is officially designated a landmark


By Albert Amateau

The Landmarks Preservation Commission two weeks ago designated St. Nicholas of Myra Orthodox Church at E. 10th St. and Avenue A as a city landmark.

Designed by James Renwick, Jr., the 19th-century architect whose work includes Grace Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the church building was built between 1882 and 1883 for the Memorial Chapel of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery, one of the city’s oldest Episcopal parishes, to serve the immigrant population of what is now the East Village.

Rutherford Stuyvesant, a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, Dutch director-general of New Netherland, donated the church to St. Mark’s in 1882, replacing a smaller building on Avenue A. In 1911, St. Mark’s rented the brick-and-terra cotta building to the Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church, which remained there until 1925. At that point, a Carpatho-Russian Orthodox congregation leased the building and named it after St. Nicholas, archbishop of Myra in Asia Minor in the fourth-century and patron saint of children, students and sailors.

The congregation of immigrants and descendants of people from eastern Slovakia, southeast Poland and southwestern Ukraine rented the building from St. Mark’s for $100 a month and bought it in 1937.

“This lively, picturesque church has anchored the neighborhood for more than 100 years and served thousands of immigrants as they tried to adapt to their new country,” said L.P.C. Chairperson Robert Tierney.

At the public hearing on the landmarking on Oct. 28, there was no opposition and seven speakers testified in favor of the designation, including City Councilmember Rosie Mendez and representatives from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the Historic Districts Council, the Society for the Architecture of the City, the Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America, the Landmarks Conservancy and the Municipal Art Society.

The church was among 130 East Village and Lower East Side buildings that the L.P.C. identified as potential landmarks in a survey two years ago.

Designed in the Renaissance-revival style with gothic arch windows, the church is still the home of the congregation that moved into it 83 years ago. The building consists of a three-and-a-half story school and library on the southwest corner of E. 10th St. and Avenue A, connected by a two-story section to a gabled sanctuary seating 500 worshipers facing 10th St.

The church is faced with red brick with terra-cotta ornament. The Eastern Orthodox-style copper crosses on the gable end of the chapel, the entrance porch and the tower were added later.

In addition to Grace Church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Nicholas, Renwick designed Calvary Church on Park Ave. South at E. 21st St. and several churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan long since demolished. He also designed the Smithsonian Institution and the Corcoran Gallery buildings in Washington, D.C., as well as Vassar College’s main building in Poughkeepsie. A lighthouse and the 1856 Smallpox Hospital both on Roosevelt Island are two existing Renwick buildings designated as New York City landmarks.