The elegant remains of an 1857 church in Queens

St. Monica’s Church, a red-brick beauty opened in 1857 with an inspiring and unusual four-story bell tower, deserved better.

Abandoned by its congregation in the 1970s and beset by vandals, this Roman Catholic church in Jamaica, Queens, “endured a heavy snowfall [that] caused the main building to collapse right after money was set aside to study the possibility of a restoration,” explained Newsday in 2002.

But this hearty church, which served the Irish immigrants who came to Jamaica in the 1830s to be railroad workers and farm laborers, managed to escape the wrecking ball.

 

Purchased by the City University of New York and already on the National Register of Historic Places, this survivor on 160th Street south of Jamaica’s LIRR station was restored to something of its original glory.

The surviving Romanesque Revival facade continues to stand, along with new steel and glass walls and a roof. The new building with the remains of the old one opened in 2009 as the York College Child and Family Center. (York is part of CUNY.)

“Built in 1856-57 for $25,000, St. Monica’s is a basilica-shaped church,” according to CUNY. “It is one of the earlier surviving examples of Early Romanesque Revival architecture in New York and one of the only Roman Catholic Churches in the city executed in this style.”

It’s not the only 19th century church with a facade that’s been incorporated into a contemporary building. This is the story of St. Ann’s in the East Village, which was transformed into an NYU dorm.

[Second photo: New-York Historical Society, 1934]

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3 Responses to “The elegant remains of an 1857 church in Queens”

  1. Marie Says:

    I remember seeing the façade standing derelict but strong for decades while passing on the LIRR nearby. Wasn’t there a graveyard there too? What happened to that??

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      There is a graveyard, Prospect Cemetery; it’s the oldest in Queens, I believe. But York College makes it very hard to see it because the cemetery is behind some newer buildings. I went on a Saturday, maybe the college buildings offer access during the week.

  2. petey Says:

    yes it’s right next to the LIRR, you can get a good look at it. the brick used in the reconstruction matches the brick of the facade, so it’s not too incongruous.

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