St. Bart's vs City of NY Landmarks Law


In 1981 St. Bart's decided to tear down its six-story community house, attached to the church, and lease the land for a skyscraper to be built by British real estate magnate Howard Ronson. The income of $9.5 million a year for 10 years, plus higher annual amounts for 90 years afterward, would fund the church's building maintenance, community activities, as well as the diocese's soup kitchens and shelters in Harlem and the South Bronx. The Reverend Thomas Bowers said the church, a large sanctuary with burnished pews, exquisite stained glass and a small garden, would have to close without the funds from the skyscraper. But opponents say the church's $11 million endowment, plus funds that could be raised in the community, would allow it to continue its programs.Sabers were drawn as the fight became a holy war pitting the religious establishment against the preservationists. City Comptroller Harrison Goldin decried the 'Canyonization of Madison Avenue'. Philip Johnson, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Brooke Astor and Brendan Gill philanthropist Brooke Astor, New Yorker critic Brendan Gill and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis have lined up to fight the proposal on the grounds that it would, as Gill put it, "mutilate one of the most beautiful churches in the city just to make a real estate killing." At stake was the question of whether churches were exempt from City Landmarks Laws. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court establish then precedent that they were not. However, the story is not over. In 2018 with the new East Midtown Zoning plan, about 50,000 sf of the air rights for St Barts (and St Patricks) were purchased by JP Morgan Chase for $20 million allowing the bank to begin tearing down the Union Carbide Building.

Verdict, Mar 4, 1991

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