Some Maspeth area residents are taking a second shot at saving a 150-year-old local church that may be facing the wrecking ball.
The Juniper Park Civic Association is planning to refile an application to landmark the former St. Savior’s Church on Rust Street. A previous application was denied in January.
The development company that bought the property in October, Maspeth Development LLC, has applied for a zoning change that would allow housing to be built on the property.
The property is currently under a mixed-use zone that excludes housing. The R5B zoning the developers have applied for allows for one- and two-family detached and semidetached rowhouses.
The lot covers an entire block between 57th Drive and 58th Road. It is a hill dotted with trees, with the church sitting on top, offering a commanding view of the surrounding neighborhood. An attached hall, a two-story home, and some storage sheds are also on the property.
The fence surrounding the site is still hung with signs for the San Sung Korean Methodist Church of New York, which owned the church from 1997 until last October.
Before that, it was an Episcopal church, founded in 1847 at a time when Maspeth was still a rural suburb of New York City.
The exterior of the church was heavily damaged in a fire just before Christmas 1970, although local historian Christina Wilkinson said the interior remained mostly intact. She believes the damage should not hurt the chances of the building being named a landmark, saying that the commission in the past has landmarked other buildings that had suffered as much or more damage.
The exterior was restored to how it looked before the fire and the church was rededicated in 1972, but a dwindling congregation led the parish to close in 1995.
Tony Nunziato, a member of the Maspeth-Middle Village Action League, said the property is one of the few open spaces left in the neighborhood, and would be better put to some kind of community use. “We have no open space for any kind of recreation center,” he said.
Wilkinson said the Juniper Park Civic Association filed a landmarking request with the commission in January, but that it was rejected without explanation.
Since then, the civic has gone back and gotten a letter of support from Councilman Dennis Gallagher, and plans to resubmit the application.
Landmark applications need the approval of the City Council, but the council as a whole has tended to defer to the opinions of local members on matters such as this, making the assurance of Gallagher’s support important.
Nunziato thinks the commission has always been slow to act on properties in Queens. “If this was in Manhattan, it would have been landmarked by now.”
He said they are seeking a stop-work order to prevent the demolition of the church and are examining the original 1847 deed, which specifies the land be used as a church. If the developers have not gone through the legal procedure required to change the deed, the land can’t be put to any other use.
Wilkinson said they also hope to explore whether the site may contain a burial ground, possibly an Indian one. “It’s the highest point in the area, which is where they buried their dead,” she said.
She conceded that it would take an archaeological excavation to prove or disprove that theory.