Our Lady of Vilnius Church (New York City)
|Our Lady of Vilnius Roman Catholic Church (Former)|
(Photographed in 2011)
|Architectural style||Lombardo-Gothic with Gothic Revival and Gothic Revival details|
|Location||Manhattan, New York City|
|Construction started||1910 (for church)|
|Completed||1910 (for church)|
|Client||The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York|
|Structural system||Yellow brick masonry with terra-cotta ornaments|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Harry G. Wiseman 104 W. 42 St, NY, NY (for church)|
Our Lady of Vilnius Church is a closed Roman Catholic parish church that has been threatened with demolition and been the subject of a landmarks preservation debate. It is the national parish church of the Lithuanian Catholic community. The former church is located at 568-570 Broome Street, in Hudson Square, Manhattan, New York City, east of the entrance to the Holland Tunnel but predating it.
"Located on Broome Street near Varick, the parish became a center fostering not only religious belief but also Lithuanian culture and national identity. People rallied around their church to maintain community bonds and remain close to their homeland. Our Lady of Vilnius was for many years home for a local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order.
"The church was built by an enclave of Lithuanian longshoremen and their families who lived in the area before the Holland Tunnel’s construction uprooted them, seeing them resettle in the Bronx and the suburbs." "In the 1920s, construction of the nearby Hudson Tunnel and its access roads uprooted the community, and by the time the tunnel opened in November, 1927, many one-family homes belonging to Lithuanian parishioners had been destroyed." "Over the years, however, the Lithuanians continued to return to the church for social activities and for Masses in their native language."
The yellow brick Lombardo-Gothic church with Gothic Revival and Gothic Revival details was built for $25,000 in 1910 to designs by theatre architect Harry G. Wiseman of 104 West 42nd Street; the rector during construction was listed as Rev. Joseph L. Shestokas of 7 Vandam Street. Wiseman was listed that year as the architect of two venues for Penn Amusements, including a modest brick theatre at 223 West 42nd Street, and an "open-air moving picture show" on the southeast corner of 111th Street and Eighth Avenue.
Closure and preservation debate
The church was closed on February 27, 2007, one of several that year, by Cardinal Edward Egan of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, citing "a damaged roof support beam and a dwindling congregation." The roof had been unstable since the late 1990s and services had been held in the basement. The doors were locked in 2007 and the Archdiocese filed plans to demolish the structure. The church records were moved to nearby St. Anthony of Padua Church (Manhattan) at 155 Sullivan Street.
Lithuanian president, Valdas Adamkus, petitioned Pope Benedict XVI in person in April 2007 to save the parish. "On December 23, 2008, the archdiocese’s demolition company, A. Russo Wrecking, sent letters to landowners stating that demolition was to take place “in the near future.” But now, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court has issued a stay, indicating it would hear the appeal of Justice York’s decision."
Similar to other closed Roman Catholic churches in New York City, like Harlem's Church of St. Thomas the Apostle (New York City), a lawsuit to block the church’s demolition was filed by former congregants and supporters resulting in "a court-issued restraining order, in effect since April 2009, [which] has ensured that Our Lady of Vilnius, though unused, is still standing."
Protesters during the March 2010 blizzard carried "Lithuanian flags — yellow, green and red — along with American flags. On the church’s red doors they tacked up signs: “God Never Closes His Doors,” “Save Our Heritage” and “Stalin 1939 — Egan 2007.”"
Description and condition
The structure is an attached midblock yellow brick double-height Lombardo-Gothic church with Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival details designed by Harry G. Wiseman for $25,000. It was completed in 1910. The only exposed elevation, the Broome Street gable facade is symmetrical divided into an upper and lower section by a moulded limestone platband. The lower facade has a limestone water table/plintmoulded with three centrally placed square-headed entrances with raised-and-fielded painted timber five-panel double-leaf doors (top panels glazed), all with pointed-arched limestone typanums above consisting of a moulded lintel and blank typanum with inset moulded terracotta panel (that to center is round, those to sides are almond shaped). Central entrance has detailed limestone gabled surround with single-rebated ornamented pilasters. To right, simple square-headed entrance interrupts plinth with descending steps accessing basement, notice board affixed above. Datestone above plinth to left corner inscribed "CHURCH / OF / OUR LADY OF VILNA / MDCCCX". Upper facade is divided into three sections with a continuous dentilled cornice rising with the central wide gable section that contains the circular stained-glass rose window with limestone moulded surround, flanked to both sides by the pilaster bases of two narrow towers with round-headed slit window above platband. Towers rise into copper domed upper belfry stages with rebated pointed arch-headed apertures to all sides. Copper-clad crosses surmount both towers and gable apex.
The church was still standing in February 2011 but the iron clamps holding the limestone plinth had rusted in several sections and burst the masonry. The date stone appeared to have been crudely re-worked with cement applied to certain letters. A statue of an owl was precariously balanced at the base of the rose window, blocking one light.
- Office for Metropolitan History, "Manhattan NB Database 1900-1986," (3/13/10)
- Church of Our Lady of Vilnius (Roman Catholic)
- Remigius Lafort, S.T.D., Censor, The Catholic Church in the United States of America: Undertaken to Celebrate the Golden Jubilee of His Holiness, Pope Pius X. Volume 3: The Province of Baltimore and the Province of New York, Section 1: Comprising the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, Buffalo and Ogdensburg Together with some Supplementary Articles on Religious Communities of Women.. (New York City: The Catholic Editing Company, 1914), p.362.
- Lincoln Anderson. Keeping faith, "Lithuanians Pray Church Will Reopen." Downtown Express:The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan Volume 22, Number 43 (March 5–11, 2010).
- Sewell Chan. Court Stays Demolition of Lithuanian Church New York Times January 12, 2009.
- J. Russiello, A Sympathetic Planning Hierarchy for Redundant Churches: A Comparison of Continued Use and Reuse in Denmark, England and the United States of America (MSc Conservation of Historic Buildings, University of Bath, 2008), p.163-164.
- Parish History of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (accessed 4 Jan 2010)
- J. Russiello, A Sympathetic Planning Hierarchy for Redundant Churches: A Comparison of Continued Use and Reuse in Denmark, England and the United States of America (MSc Conservation of Historic Buildings, University of Bath, 2008), p.350.
- Dunlap, David W. From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan's Houses of Worship. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.).