Photos by Stacie Joy
In the days ahead, workers will begin to remove the remains of Middle Collegiate Church's fire-damaged façade at 112 Second Ave. between Sixth Street and Seventh Street.
On Tuesday, workers erected a sidewalk bridge on Seventh Street... along the north side of the church structure that was destroyed during a six-alarm fire early morning on Dec. 5, 2020.
The fire reportedly started inside 48 E. Seventh St., the five-story residential building that once stood on this corner. FDNY officials blamed faulty wiring at the under-renovation building and said the fire had been deemed "non-suspicious."In a phone interview with EVG on Wednesday, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church, offered a timeline for the work ahead after an arduous approval process among multiple city agencies over the last year.
"Now everything is, 'on your mark, get set, go,'" said Lewis, who noted they want to get the work underway before any disruptive winter weather starts.
There are two permits awaiting approval, and then workers will start — likely in the next week for what is expected to be a two-to-three-month job. Lewis also explained that it's a combination demolition-salvage operation. Workers will sift through the remains of the building, initially completed in 1892, to save any of the limestone and ironwork for use in the new sanctuary that will eventually rise on the property.
In January, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) signed off on a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition. So why the 11-month wait?
"Then we had negotiations with [the LPC] about what we wanted and what they wanted, which was, 'How much could we preserve? How much could we leave up safely? How would we take down what we take down safely?' That has been a several-month process," Lewis said. "We went back and forth with different plans, with our engineers, their engineers, our architect and their evaluators."
Then came the paperwork with the Department of Buildings and the Department of Transportation (workers will need to use a lane of Second Avenue during the demolition phase). They also needed to negotiate a controlled access zone agreement with neighbors on either side of the church.
As previously reported, church leaders had said they must remove what remains on the property within the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District. According to a report commissioned by the church, the culmination of an 18-month review, there was too much damage to the existing structure to integrate it into Middle Collegiate's new home, that it wouldn't withstand a full-scale rebuild on the property.
Lewis previously told us they spent $4 million to reinforce, stabilize and weatherproof the façade. (Preservation groups, including Village Preservation, had urged the LPC not to grant permission for demolition until further studies could occur.)
"Every time I walk by that façade, that vacant lot ... and there's just rubble — it takes me right back to the fire. The façade is a symbol of resilience — it survived! But it really didn't survive, which is why we made the case to take it down," Lewis said.
The demolition and salvage operation is just one of the projects underway. The church also owns 50 E. Seventh St., just east of Second Avenue, which is currently vacated after suffering collateral damage during the fire.
A two-story structure with a glass dome behind No. 50 connects the building to Middle Collegiate's former sanctuary. Lewis said they have plans to create a new worshiping space for up to 225 people in the two-story structure (which they called their social hall). No. 50 will house different church social programs as well as space for the community to use for meetings or other purposes.
Lewis said they hope to have this ready by December 2024.
A lot is happening now with the church, which has been holding services from their temporary home — East End Temple, 245 E. 17th St. between Second Avenue and Third Avenue.
"My first job is being a pastor. My second job is raising money, and my third is raising a building," Lewis said. "It has been really hard. But we've had so much love from the community and love from the city. We're still here!"