NYC – East Village: St Marks-in-the-Bowery Church
Image by wallyg
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, a beautiful but plain looking Georgian style structure is the second oldest church building in Manhattan, dating back to the 18th century. Constructed of schist, a dull grey stone, readily available from the bedrock of Manhattan, kept building costs down eliminating the need for quarried stone.
In 1651, Peter Stuyvesant, Governor of New Amsterdam, purchased land for a bowery or farm from the Dutch West India Company and by 1660 built a family chapel at the present day site of St. Marks Church. Stuyvesant died in 1678 and was interred in a vault under the chapel. Stuyvesant’s great-grandson, Petrus, would donate the chapel property to Episcopal Church in 1793, stipulating that a new chapel be erected and in 1795 the cornerstone of the present day St. Mark’s Church was laid. The church was completed and consecrated in 1799. And Alexander Hamilton would then provide legal aid in incorporating St. Mark’s Church as the first Episcopal Parish independent of Trinity Church in the new world.
In 1828, the church steeple and Greek revival clock tower, designed by Ithiel Town, of Town and Thompson, was erected. In 1835, the two-story fieldstone Sunday School was completed and in 1838, St. Mark’s Church established the Parish Infant School for poor children. In 1854, the Italian cast iron porch with ionic columns and a simple balustrade,completed the church. In 1861, St. Mark’s Church commissioned a brick addition to the Sunday School, the present day Parish Hall, designed and supervised by architect James Renwick Jr, who designed Grace Church and would go onto building St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In 1900, leading architect Ernest Flagg designed the rectory.
On July 27, 1978, a fire nearly destroyed St. Mark’s Church. The Citizens to Save St Mark’s was founded to raise funds for its reconstruction and the Preservation Youth Project undertakes the reconstruction supervised by architects Harold Edleman and craftspeople provided by preservation contractor I. Maas & Sons. The Landmark Fund emerged from the Citizens to Save St Mark’s and continues to exist to help maintain and preserve St. Mark’s Church for future generations.
St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery is hallowed ground not only for Episcopalians, but devotees of avant-garde arts as well. Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham danced here in the 20s and 30s, and the cutting-edge Danspace Project, founded in 1974, continues that legacy with a full schedule of performances in the airy, open main hall. Literature has been just as revered: The late, great Allen Ginsberg was a recurring participant in the church’s resident Poetry Project (a nationally recognized force). Furthermore, St. Mark’s has been a happy home for legendary experimental theater auteur Richard Foreman. The space has so thoroughly established itself as an essential component of the arts community that it’s easy to forget that this is still a functioning church
St. Marks Churchyard houses many burial vaults. The West Yard is known as the Healing Garden, providing an oasis from city life. Some of the ancient maples in the yard were lost to the Asian Longhorn Beetle in 2000. This area was a proposed (and rejected) site for two 18-story apartment towers designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1929. Among the famous buried here are Daniel Tompkins, who abolished slavery in New York; Commodore Matthew Perry, who forced Japan to accept U.S. trade; New York Mayor Philip Hone; and Peter Stuyvesant. Department store pioneer A.T. Stewart, whose store filled the block between 9th and 10th streets east of Broadway, was buried here in 1876, but on November 6, 1878, his body was snatched and held for 0,000 ransom. The widow eventually regained possession of the corpse in 1881, after bargaining the kidnappers down to ,000. He now rests elsewhere.
Saint Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1966.
National Register #72000885 (1972)