On December 8, 1891 the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary took title to the three-story brick tenement on the north side of East 4th Street, between Avenues C and D. The fledgling congregation paid $7,500 for the property--about $220,000 today. Only three months earlier, Archbishop Michael Corrigan had sent to Neutra, Hungary for a priest to "take charge of the spiritual welfare of his fellow-countrymen, who, ignorant of any other language than their own, found no congenial place of worship."
The parish boundaries of the new Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary stretched from East 6th Street at the north to East Houston Street, and from Avenue A on the west to the East River. The World remarked, "It is situated in the heart of the Hungarian district."
At the time of the purchase, the recently arrived Fr. Francis Januschek was holding services in the basement of St. Brigid's Church, near Tompkins Square. German-born architect Edward Wenz was hired to design the new structure. It would cost the congregation another $16,200 to construct, bringing the total outlay to just under $700,000 by today's standards.
It would seem, perhaps, that the former brick-faced house-turned-tenement was not demolished, but massively renovated. Wenz retained the English basement and high, stone stoop, and the overall domestic configuration of the openings. The windows were given Victorian Gothic arches. Those on the top floor were blind--the windows of that level (where the priest would reside) were actually rectangular. Behind the peaked gable of the flat roof rose a charming cupola that served as a steeple.
The church was consecrated on November 1, 1892. The World said, "This church was made necessary by the increasing number of the Roman Catholic population speaking the Slavonian language here, and is the first of its kind in the city." Apparently not overwhelmed by Wenz's architectural efforts, the journalist said, "It is an unpretentious structure of red brick, but is well adapted to its purposes."
There were already 500 members in the congregation and the church was designed to hold another 300. The World reported, "All the services are to be conducted in the Slavonian language. The singing will also be in Slavonian, under the direction of Ladislus Oncai, the organist of the church." The article pointed out, "There are in this country only six Hungarian Catholic priests, including Father Januschek, three of whom have parishes in the Pennsylvania mining regions."
From the beginning, not all was not tranquil within the congregation. Father Januschek was soon replaced, as was his successor, neither of which could satisfy both factions of the congregation--the Hungarians and the Slovaks. In 1895 the third priest, Father John Polyakovits was removed by Archbishop Corrigan, sparking a schism. On September 2, The World reported, "The row between the Hungarian and Slavonic factions of St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church...has resulted in the withdrawal of the Slavonians from the congregation."
The New York Times attempted to explain, saying that "The Slovaks are a devout people...As many of the Slovaks come from Hungary, they established the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in East Fourth Street. They were joined by a large number of the Magyar Hungarians, who later became the majority in the church, and gradually assumed the control, and managed to have the Slovak priest removed and a German priest appointed in his stead." The Slovak faction received the consent of the Archbishop to splinter off and build their own church.
The move did not settle all the problems between Slovakians and Hungarians, however. In September 1896, the new rector, Rev. Francis Denes, sued Gustave Marschall, the editor of Slavak-Amerike, for libel. Denes told the Essex Market Police Court, "This person and his friends, who are very adversarious, did call me an ox and an ass and a gypsy and a foolish man. They defame me. They would put me out from the church."
He accused the newspaper of attacking even his surname. "The persons whom he calls 'adversarious' have expressed the opinion that 'Denes' is not a plain Slav name, as it should be, but that is is another name, 'Magyarized,'" said The World. (The reporter did not seem especially sympathetic, saying, "The rev. Mr. Denes is short of breath and of a fat habit and of placid mentality.")
Marschall defended himself, saying the comments were "merely humorous," however an associate who spoke to The World reporter hinted there was more to it. "The trouble was, he said, that the Rev. Mr. Denes thought himself no longer a plain Slav, but imagined that he was high and mighty, which, said this genial spokesman for the agile editor, might be all very well in Hungary, but wouldn't do in Avenue C., 'not by a jugful.'"
In January 1905, Mgr. Count Vay de Vaya, the Hungarian Consul-General, arrived in New York "in the interests of Hungarians," according to The Sun. He met with Rev. Denes with the idea of forming a Hungarian Catholic Club. Two months later, it was in the planning stages, with the first official meeting being held in Rev. Denes's apartment on the top floor of the church. Mgr. de Vaya explained to The Sun, "the club will have an information bureau and an employment agency which will see that Hungarian servant girls obtain employment in good families which will treat them honestly. The club will furnish information pertaining to Government lands and grants to farmers."
The first decades of the 20th century saw the German, Polish and Hungarian population moving from the Lower East Side to the Yorkville area. In June 1917, the congregation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary purchased the "old Yorkville landmark," as described by The New York Times--the German Evangelical Immanuel Church on East 83rd Street.
The following year in April the East 4th Street church was sold to the Russian Greek Orthodox National Association for the equivalent of $318,000 today. It became home to the Russian Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity.
The congregation's presence reflected the changing demographics of the area, as more and more Russians and Ukranians settled here. The November 1921 issue of Foreign-Born, A Bulletin of International Service, noted, "A Russian school for Russian children has been opened at the Russian Greek Orthodox Church, 345 East Fourth Street, New York City...Russian language and music will be taught."
The Church of the Holy Trinity remained in the little building until it was sold by the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in 1975. Once again, the sale reflected the changes in the neighborhood. The building became home to San Isidoro y San Leandro Western Orthodox Catholic Church of the Hispanic Mozarabic Rite.
In 2021 the building was placed on the market for $5 million. The listing stressed that it would be "delivered vacant and [sits] outside a historic district." Writing in TimeOut on March 30, 2021, Anna Rahmanan remarked, "Surprisingly, the space actually isn't landmarked although a local preservation group did submit a request for it back in 2017." The realtor's listing suggested that the property "offers the opportunity to create a large community facility or a residential single family home."
In the meantime, concerned preservationists and locals wait to see the fate of the charming little structure.
photographs by the author
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