They might not have completely saved St. Saviour’s but preservationists breathed a sigh of relief at a one-week reprieve from the planned demolition of the Maspeth church in hopes that the shutdown will buy them enough time to make an agreement to move the building.
On Thursday, February 28, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) stopped the demolition after receiving a call, investigating the site and finding traces of asbestos in samples taken from the roof, said spokesperson Mercedes Padilla.
“Because it turned out to be positive for asbestos, DEP is required to make the owner of the property hire a licensed contractor for the asbestos abatement,” Padilla said, adding that agency inspectors planned to revisit the site on Monday, March 3.
On Monday, February 25, SANO Construction Corporation had been issued a permit to demolish the entire church, according a spokesperson from the Department of Buildings (DOB).
Preservationists said that they expected the abatement to be complete by Wednesday, March 5 and are rallying around an idea to move the church structure to another location, more specifically All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, which has offered to house the building so long as the cost of the relocation is covered.
“I don’t understand why [the owner] would rather go through the expensive demolition process,” said Christina Wilkinson, one of several preservationists who have been battling with the property’s owner to keep the church, located at 57-40 58th Street, for the past two years.
Wilkinson added that tearing down the church, which was designed by architect Richard Upjohn in 1847, would create bad feelings with neighbors and that by allowing the move, the property owner, Maspeth Development, LLC, could likely use the church as a tax write-off.
So far, State Senator Serphin Maltese has pledged $100,000 to move the church and Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi has offered $50,000 to the structure from next year’s budget. If used, Hevesi’s money would likely go to restoration, Wilkinson said. Councilmember Tony Avella has also been working with preservationists, led by the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), to save the church.
However, the property owner must agree to the move or a city agency must step in for the church to be salvaged. Calls to the property owner were not returned by press time, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has said in the past that St. Saviour’s cannot be designated as a landmark because it has undergone too many changes over the years.
Although Wilkinson remains optimistic, local residents like John and Alicia Talalay who live two blocks away and watched the demolition on Thursday, February 28, were less hopeful.
“You know they are going to tear it down. You knew they were going to tear it down all along,” said Alicia Talalay, before mentioning that the church’s parsonage had already been destroyed in December 2007.
John Talalay said that his grandparents had attended services at St. Saviour’s, which had been ravaged by a fire in 1970, and he brought his four-year-old son John Jr. to see the house of worship when it had been in better condition.
“He knows this was God’s place,” John Talalay said of his son.
Preservationists had also hoped to save St. Saviour’s bell, which Wilkinson said was cast in 1898 in honor of the church’s 50th anniversary, and according to Wilkinson, an agreement was reached with the property owner that they could have the bell, so long as they brought enough people to carry the bell out.
However, on Thursday, February 28, the group was told that the bell was no longer in the church.
“That was a disappointment too,” Wilkinson said.