Monday, December 5, 2016

The Lost St. Andrew's Church - Duane St and City Hall Place

An early 20th century postcard depicted "crowd leaving noonday mass."
On the evening of November 3, 1839 a "lecture" was delivered in the Fourth Universalist Church, on the corner of Duane Street and City Hall Place.  Its subject was "Being cast into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Fourth Universalist Church was the frequent scene of similar hell-fire sermons.  A week later, on November 10, the subject was "The consequences of sin and the impossibility of escaping them."  Earlier that year, in April, the Boston minister, The Reverend Mr. Ballou, preached here for several days, "raising up his voice, and awakening the sinner to a deep sense of his sins," according to the Morning Herald.

The church building was erected in 1808--two years before construction began on the elegant City Hall.  Originally a Congregational church, and then a Methodist, the Universalists would soon leave as well.  Decades later The New York Times remembered "When the residential sections of the city began to move uptown the church was abandoned, and for some years the building was used as a wine warehouse.  In 1842 it first became a Catholic church.  Cardinal Hayes served as an altar boy there in his early days on the east side."

That church was the newly-organized parish of the Church of St. Andrew.  After first worshiping in the nearby Carroll Hall, it took over the former Fourth Universalist church.  By 1861, when the Common Council ordered Duane Street to be widened, the venerable structure was showing its age.   As a consequence of the widening, seven feet at the front of the church was lost.

Two abutting lots were purchased; one for the new pastor's residence and the other to compensate for the lost square footage.  The New York Herald remarked "The lot added to the church has an historical interest, from the fact of its being the site of the house in which Washington resided for three days during his stay in New York."

On October 20, 1861 the remodeled structure was to be dedicated by Archbishop John Hughes.  He did not make it.  The New York Times remarked "Much disappointment was felt at the absence of the most Reverend Archbishop; but causes which he could not conquer precluded his attendance."  Nevertheless, the dedication went on as scheduled.

The New York Herald noted "This edifice has been so altered and improved that it may be said to be almost wholly a new church."  And The New York Times remarked "Every one in the habit of passing the corner of Duane-street and City Hall-place, a year or more ago, must have remarked on a dingy-looking edifice, of most unprepossessing exterior, which bore testimony to its use only by the cross which rose above its gable.

"All that has been changed."

The Herald reported that "a heavy expense has been put upon the church by the opening and widening of Duane and Reade streets."  And indeed, the purchase of the two lots cost $22,000 and the renovations cost another $18,000.  In today's dollars the total price would be about $1.4 million.

But newspapers agreed that the expense was worth it.   The New York Herald said "The front has undergone a complete transformation, and instead of its former plain appearance, has assumed architectural proportions and finish that render it equal to some of the finest structures of the kind in our metropolis."  And The Times chimed in saying "Now...rises a lofty church, with a tall and imposing spire.  The interior is one of the most exquisitely finished of any in the City."

photo by Beecher Ogden, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

While journalists took care to list the contracting firms--carpenters, masons, painters, gas-fixers and even the furnace supplier--they neglected to mention the name of the architect.  His Victorian Gothic re-do was severe in its angularity.  The red brick facade was touched with brownstone details--like the beefy Gibbs-like quoins that surrounded the openings.  A side tower rose three stories before morphing into an octagonal belfry.

The remodeled structure could now accommodate 1,500 worshipers.  The Herald reported "The inside has been frescoed, and the altar may be classed among the most beautiful in the country."  The Gothic-style altar had been imported from Rome.  Flanking it were oil paintings of St. Patrick and St. Andrew.  The New York Times deemed the interior "one of the most exquisitely finished of any in the City."

By 1874 St. Andrew's Church was crowded in by commercial structures.  The New York Herald described it as "an unpretentious brick building [which] nestles in sheer humility beside the tall building lately occupied by Mr. J. Shaw, a dealer in crockery ware, which separates it from Sweeny's Hotel."   A substantial fire in Shaw's building that year, left it essentially a burned-out shell.  On February 26, 1875 The Herald complained "It is very probable that the matter was never sufficiently inquired into; for though the walls appeared bulged, the reconstruction of the interior portions of the house was proceeded with."

As the renovations continued, the fears of the parishioners diminished.  The pastor had expressed "apprehension" regarding "the proximity of the charred walls"; but, according to The New York Herald, "this feeling of insecurity died away as time progressed, and the condition of the neighboring house was forgotten."

But then, on the stormy night of February 25, 1875, congregants assembled for mass.  There was standing room only, The New York Times noting that "it held fifty or a hundred persons more than its seating capacity."  A guest priest, Father Carroll of St. Stephen's Church, was preaching on "Death and the necessity for preparation."  It was an unexpectedly relevant topic.

The Herald reported "Outside the storm came down, and windy gusts swept over the buildings of the city, but within the church all was peace and quiet."  While the congregation, "reverentially silent, listened to the impassioned words of the preacher," a blast of wind toppled the weakened wall of Shaw's burned building onto the Church of St. Andrew's.

There were approximately 250 people in the east balcony when the roof overhead collapsed, burying well-dressed worshipers in mortar, timbers and bricks.  A panicked crowd rushed toward the exits and stairways screaming.  "Others, bolder in their frenzy, jumped over the balustrade into the pews beneath, and so the terror was communicated from one to another until the whole congregation joined in a wild stampede, in which the strong used their strength to preserve their own lives with the supreme selfishness of humanity."

Nearly two-thirds of the congregants that night were women and children.  In the rush from the galleries, two women and a boy were trampled to death.   The jam of terrified people, certain that the entire building was about to collapse upon them, pushed against the doors--which opened inward and prevented their escape.

When it was over, six worshipers were dead and more than 50 had been severely injured by the falling walls "or thrown down and trampled upon by the fleeing crowd."  The Herald reported "when the church was cleared of the panic-stricken people, the victims were thickly strewn about, some with life still remaining." 

Because of the St. Andrew's tragedy, a movement was begun to mandate that all doors in civic or public structures open outward.

The area around St. Andrew's Church was no longer one of tidy brick homes.  The funerals and weddings conducted here in the 1880s reflected a much-changed neighborhood.  One of the most notable funerals was that of Jeremiah "Jere" Hartigan on December 13 1887.  Born in Ireland in 1841, he arrived in New York at the age of 6.  Over the years he had driven a cart team, served in the navy from 1861 to 1863, and kept a tavern at Pearl and Chatham Streets.  He was well-known to the politicians and residents, and was appointed a court officer.

Stories surrounding Jere Hartigan was endless.  Once, when a fight broke out on Franklin Square on election day, he and a friend went "to quiet things."  On the way, there was what The Times called "a fracas" and Jere, reportedly in self-defense, shot and killed Daniel Freel.  Hartigan was shot twice.  He was fined six cents by Judge Russell.  Another time he was stabbed by a "drunken ruffian" while standing in front of his saloon on Chatham Square.  Although he had to remain in the hospital three months, he refused to file charges against the assailant,

As he lay dying in December 1887, he told his sister about a poor family nearby.  "They are broke for money, and I am not able to attend to them myself.  I want you to look after them as well as you can.  Give them what they want."  He died shortly after.

His funeral in St. Andrew's on December 13 required the closing of streets.  "While the services were in progress the broad steps and sidewalk could not begin to hold the overflow, which spread out along both sides of Duane-street nearly to Chatham," reported The Times.  "Silk-tied, sleek-dressed politicians rubbed elbows against the rags and patches of Mulberry Bend, and the white-haired and tottering stood with children, eager and silent, clustered about them."

Another remarkable funeral was that of Annie Connor, known as "Aunt Annie, the apple woman."  For 35 years she had sold apples around Park Row.  On March 20, 1889 The Evening World ran a sub-headline which read "The Well-Known Apple-Woman Buried from St. Andrew's Church."  The article noted "'Aunty' had been a faithful worshiper at this church for the past thirty-five years."

St. Andrew's Church was first threatened in 1890 when the City looked for a location for the new Municipal Building.  Following a committee meeting on July 22, The Times reported that the proposed site "would cause the removal of St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church, Sweeny's Hotel and other buildings."  Three months later Archbishop Corrigan lobbied against the location in a letter to the Building Commission.  On October 12 The New York Times noted "He objects on the ground of historical association."

The archbishop got his way and St. Andrew's survived.  On July 10, 1900 it received an updating of sorts when the old wooden cross on the steeple was removed to be replaced by a replacement of galvanized tin over seven feet tall.  The process attracted an enormous crowd who watched steeplejack George V. Wing "swinging to and fro seated in a boatswain's chair 150 feet in the air," according to The Times.

Wing, who was known as the Wizard of the Steeple," had been brought in from Zanesville, Ohio.  He told reporters that he would look out for whiskey bottles in the steeple.  Wing and another steeplejack, "Steeple Bob" Merrill said that "whisky bottles were very often found in church steeples," having been left there by the original construction workers.

Newspaper workers along nearby Park Row, known as "newspaper row," worked nights; making church attendance difficult if not impossible.  They petitioned Archbishop Corrigan in 1901 to establish nighttime services so "they could attend without sacrificing time which is usually devoted to their business,"  That May the archbishop approved the services in St. Andrew's Church and it quickly gained the nickname  of The Printers' Church.

The arrangement did not escape the notice of the Vatican.  On April 1, 1907 the New-York Tribune reported on the Easter service for the newsmen.  "Old St. Andrew's, in Duane street, was crowded at 2:30 o'clock yesterday morning, when the Easter service for night workers was begun."  The newspaper made note that "Before the sermon Father Evers read the cable dispatch from the Pope to the night workers."

Rather remarkably, the old James Shaw crockery store building which had caused the 1875 disaster, is still standing in this 1908 photograph.  photo by George F. Arata, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Irish priests in the early years of the 20th century had often grown up as street-wise kids from gritty neighborhoods.  Father Gilmore showed his mettle on June 21, 1912 when he heard Policeman Thomas Donahue's whistle--a call for assistance.  When Donahue had attempted to arrest one of a "crowd of rowdies" on City Hall Place, he was accosted by about 20 others who beat and kicked him.

The Times reported "Father Gilmore fought his way through the crowd, striking left and right, until he reached the side of Donahue.  The priest seized the two nearest men and held them until other patrolmen arrived."

While the church had escaped demolition in 1890, it was repeatedly threatened.  On September 18, 1911 the Illinois newspaper the Urbana Daily Courier reported "Night workers in the down town section of New York have started a strong fight against the proposed destruction of St. Andrew's Roman Catholic make room for a new Court House."  The newspaper explained "The little 'red church,' as it is best known, has been standing since 1808, and is a landmark in lower Manhattan."

The threat remained and three years later The Sun reported on April 20, 1914 that "The Rev. Father L. J. Evers of St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church made an earnest plea to his parishioners yesterday to protest against the proposed change of the site of the new court house.  He said the change would mean the condemning of the church property."

As the battle dragged on, the country was pulled into world war.  On May 30, 1918 St. Andrew's made history when the congregation sang "The Star Spangled Banner" during mass.  The Sun said the "departure from the prescribed routine of the service that was perhaps unprecedented in New York, marked the conclusion of a cerebration of high mass for the repose of soldiers fallen in battle."

Rather surprisingly, in 1927 it was not the City which proposed the demolition of St. Andrew's Church, but its pastor.  That fall, after years of wrangling over a courthouse site, the City decided on one which included the old tenement building where Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes had been born in 1867.  Father Cashin decided the sanctity of the site was more important than his venerable church building.

The neighborhood around St. Andrew's Church in 1929 would be unrecognizable today.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

He proposed trading the church property, directly across the street from the site, for Nos. 15 through 19 City Hall Place, as well as No. 25 Duane Street.  Cashin admitted "My preferable plan would be to retain the old structure...and restore it to its original Colonial appearance."  Yet a more pragmatic solution was called for.  He continued "But I am afraid that would look out of place buried in the midst of the modern municipal structures.  So I am afraid we will have to sacrifice sentiment to utility.

"I would like, therefore, to build a new church that would harmonize in its architectural and structural quality with the buildings the city is erecting in this area.  And we would include in this the birthplace of his Eminence Cardinal Hayes, and make of it a shrine.  It would be as justifiable to erect a shrine to a living saint as a dead saint."

What seemed to be a logical and mutually-advantageous concept (the plots were essentially the same size and value) dragged on contentiously for years.  Finally, on July 12, 1932, a truce was accomplished.  The Times noted "In the intervening three years three plans for a new church and rectory were drawn, each based upon a different idea of what the ultimate church site would be."

When this photo was taken in 1933, the end of the line for the old church was nearing.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Plans for a new $300,000 church, drawn by Maginnis & Walsh of Boston and Robert J. Reilly of New York, were not filed for another year.  It would be another five years before demolition of the old St. Andrew's Church began.  On January 21, 1938 The Times reported, "The Roman Catholic Church of St Andrew, landmark of Duane Street and Cardinal Place, where the night workers' mass was born just after the turn of the century and where newspaper men from Park Row for years attended services during the small hours of the morning, was turned over yesterday to a wrecking crew."

The new St. Andrew's Church on its new site at No. 20 Cardinal Place was dedicated on November 30, 1939.

photo by Lucascb

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