St. Saviour's saved by relocation deal – QNS.com

St. Saviour’s saved by relocation deal

Bob Holden believes he may have lost a few battles but won the war.
After two years of tireless activism to stop the demolition of the ill-fated St. Saviour’s Church in Maspeth – along with fellow preservationist Christina Wilkinson – Holden said on Wednesday, March 26, that the historic house of worship would be, well, saved.
A preliminary agreement with the property owner will allow Holden’s group, the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), to relocate the church, which dates back to 1847.
On Thursday, March 27, one of the property’s owners confirmed that Maspeth Development LDC is trying to hammer out a deal with the civic.
“It’s quite a miracle that this church is going to be saved,” Holden said, later adding, “It’s the biggest battle I’ve ever been through and the longest.”
The JPCA hopes to move the church to a site within All Faiths Lutheran Cemetery in Middle Village within 30 to 40 days.
“We have a location that will never be suitable for burying and interring the deceased,” said Daniel C. Austin, the President, CEO and Board Chair of the cemetery. “We would be glad, elated, to keep this historic building alive.”
The cemetery’s own chapel had burned down in 1977, and the church had since moved to another location at 80th Street and Dry Harbor Road.
The spot presently picked out by the cemetery would be close to 69th Street but cemetery officials are surveying the area to make sure that is the best location.
Currently, All Faiths is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days per week, but Austin said the cemetery would accommodate St. Saviour’s.
“If St. Saviour’s were to be moved here, of course, it would have a separate entrance and gate hours could fluctuate according to the needs of the community,” Austin said.
However, the church is a long way off from holding services.
Currently, Holden said the structure is being stripped down to its original state, which so far has cost $6,000.
“Considering we’ve spent over $70,000 on this thing over two years in legal fees, that’s a small price to pay,” Holden said, explaining that some funding has come from Christabel Gough, the Secretary of the Society for the Architecture of the City.
Church leaders had added sheetrock after a fire tore through the building in the 1970s.
In addition, crews are now estimating the cost to move the church – either whole or dismantled. “The backup plan if it can’t be moved is to take it apart piece by piece,” Holden said,
The JPCA is trying to raise funds for the relocation. So far, State Senator Serphin Maltese has allocated $100,000 to the project.
“Now what we have to do is put aside old grievances and work together to try to get as much of St. Saviour’s moved and in an accessible location,” Maltese said.
However, Holden said that a rough assessment as of Wednesday, March 26 had the cost at $500,000 and asked that anyone willing to donate funds contact the civic.
“We’ve come so far and now it’s just going to fall apart because we can’t raise the funding … I can’t see that happening. If it did happen, it would be very tragic,” said Wilkinson, who chairs JPCA’s Committee to Save St. Saviour’s.
Although both Wilkinson and Holden said they would have liked to see the church remain at its current site – on Rust Street between 58th Street and 57th Road – both agreed that they would prefer to preserve the church at a different location than see it demolished.
“Our goal was at all times to save the church. It wasn’t to move the church,” Holden said, explaining that only recently they switched to “plan b.”
For the past two years, civic groups including JPCA, elected officials and local residents had called on the property owner to let the church be. Originally, the developer had planned to build housing around the church but the proposal would have required a zoning change.
In 2006, the owner asked for $10 million for the property but found no taker, and the following year, 185 trees on the property were razed, according to civic members. In December 2007, the St. Saviour’s parsonage, which was constructed in 1849, was also torn down.
“That was a blow to us. Even more so were all those trees,” Holden said.
Still the group pressed on – despite the counsel from many to relinquish.
“I think it shows you to never give up. Many people told us to give up, but we didn’t. That is why we do many times prevail, I think,” Holden said.
Holden believes that the group has finally persuaded the property owners to agree to their secondary request.
“They [the owners] have nothing to gain by just throwing the church away and it will create some ill will,” Holden said, explaining that now “they see how passionate people are about saving history.”
“The big victory is that at last the community will have a historic structure on 69th Street,” he said.

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