|photo by Alice Lum|
In 1863 the congregation was large enough to support a school and St. Ann’s Parochial School was opened nearby. Here young Catholic children were educated by Sisters of Charity.
By the end of the Civil War, neither the old church nor school building was sufficient. In 1870 pastor Thomas Scott Preston, as Father Forbes had done before, purchased an existing church building. The 1847 structure at No. 120 East 12th Street had been built as a church and was until recently used as a synagogue. Directly behind, on East 11th Street, land was conveniently available for construction of a new school building.
The school opened later that year. Fr. Preson’s obituary in November 1891 would mention that “He was a firm supporter of the parochial-school system, believing that the education of the young should devolve upon the Church, and to exemplify his belief, he built a commodious school-house on Eleventh street.”
And commodious it was. The non-nonsense brick edifice stretched from No. 113 to 117 East 11th Street and rose four stories above the basement. The architect made creative use of brick, on the whole, to embellish the structure. Limestone eyebrows over the arched windows and stone door framing were the exception. A carved stone disc in the shallow gable announced the school’s name.
A pleasing row of brick corbels lined the gable and band courses of saw-tooth brick broke the heavy mass. As with all Catholic schools, boys entered through one door; girls through another on the opposite end.
The improvement to the block led the Board of Alderman to approve three street lamps in front of the building that year. The school opened with an attendance of 560 students.
|Stairs originally rose to the boys' and girls' entrances -- photo NYPL Collection|
The Society found that all the outer doors were kept locked, there were no fire escapes and no fire drills were ever conducted. It was a disaster in the making.
The violations were corrected and things at St. Ann’s progressed quietly for another three years. But in 1886 construction of Charles Goldstein’s Webster Hall next door at No. 121 was nearing completion. The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide described it as “a large ball and concert hall.” Fr. Preston dug deeper and discovered that Goldstein had applied for a liquor license.
Preston lodged a complaint with the Excise Commissioners based on the location next to the school. Goldstein countered through The New York Times saying that the “hall was intended for balls, receptions, Hebrew weddings, and sociables, and not a bar room. The bar would not be opened until 8:30 or 9 o’clock in the evening, at the hour the school would be closed.”
Other newspapers were not so understanding of Goldstein’s position. The New-York Tribune, on December 30 mentioned “The Excise Commissioners have reserved their decision, though they ought to have been prompt in denying the application. Hesitation is not creditable in such a case.”
A day later The Sun chimed in. “A place such as this dance hall draws to it and about it characters with whom children should not become familiar, and creates noise and confusion intolerable in the immediate vicinity of a school and church. The proprietor of this establishment deserves no consideration at the hands of the Excise Commissioners, who have full authority, and are under positive obligation to refuse him a license.”
Whether Fr. Preston or the newspapers like it or not, Goldstein got his license and Webster Hall became one of New York’s most popular gathering spots.
|photo by Alice Lum|
Yet the school endured, with no help from Webster Hall next door. In 1902 the banquet hall caught fire, then again in 1911. In 1930 the building was partly destroyed by another blaze and then, on February 22, 1938 the entire neighborhood was evacuated as yet another fire raged through the hall. The conflagration, which The New York Times said “menaced St. Ann’s Parochial School,” nearly destroyed Webster Hall and resulted in two deaths.
The East Village neighborhood changed as the 20th century progressed and in 1978, five years before the church was re-established as St. Ann’s Armenian Rite Catholic Cathedral, the old school building was converted into apartments, four to a floor. A later conversion was completed in 2010.
The boys’ and girls’ entrances were partially bricked over, transforming them to windows, and the street and basement levels were painted an industrial red. Although the apartments are roomy it appears that any sympathetic treatment of the exterior design is purely accidental.