Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jamaica's Chapel of the Sisters restored

They came for a rare glimpse of the Chapel of the Sisters, restored by a $700,000 project to its glorious, circa-1857 self after years of neglect.

A century and a half ago, Nicholas Ludlum - an ancestor of Cate's, though the surname spelling changed over the years commissioned the chapel to memorialize his three daughters, who died at ages 1, 13 and 21.

The chapel was deemed so unique that the city landmarked it in 1977 - along with the adjacent Prospect Cemetery, where Nicholas Ludlum, his wife Sarah and their daughters are buried.

But by the late 1990s, decades of neglect had left the land in disrepair. Pews rotted in the chapel, layered in pigeon and rat dung. Outside, chest-high vegetation towered over tombstones dating as far back as 1728.


Restored from ruin, a 19th century chapel comes back to life

A ceremony today at the Romanesque Revival chapel on 159th St. between Archer and Liberty Aves. will usher in the next chapter of its history.

The land - owned by the city Parks Department - sits on the campus of CUNY's York College, which plans to use the chapel for classes, faculty meetings and a music performance space, said college spokesman Nate Moore.

Ludlam's husband, Dick Frankenheimer, wondered if the city would make good on its promise to maintain the grounds.


Maintenance is never as sexy as fixing something up and having a ribbon-cutting photo op.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is this something that is publicly accessible as Parks Dept property or do you have to be a York student to be access it? Why were tax dollars used to fix it up just to make it a classroom and faculty meeting space? As if there are no places in the existing school to do so? It's not very big. Performance space? The school has an auditorium and there is a fully refurbished church that is to be a performing arts center down the street. This sounds like one of those gravy train projects that preservation organizations, preservation architects and elected officials are famous for.

Sergey Kadinsky said...

If you would like to get off the beaten path, but still learn about local history, a block from the chapel is Beaver Road, which ties into Jamaica's ancient history and namesake:

www.mazeartist.com/beaver.htm

Anonymous said...

It is outragous they renamed this.

History in third world societies and totalitian states is an instrument of the elite, not a legacy to the public.

Anonymous said...

"Only now does the future of the 4.5-acre plot seem bright, thanks to a rehabilitation led by Ludlam and funded by the New York Landmarks Conservancy and city and state agencies."

I guess they do get out Manhattan sometimes. Where was the Landmarks Conservancy on Saint Savior's though?

Damned Architect said...

My goodness, such negative comments here! I work for the Architects who did the restoration of this chapel, so let me give you a bit of background on this project.

The land that the chapel sits upon belongs to the parks department, but the building itself is owned by the city. This last fact was only discovered several years ago when a title search was undertaken. Since it is a landmark, the owner is required to maintain and restore the property. Much more money in fact could have been spent on the project to restore all the original detailing; however, the work that was done was the most cost-effective way to meet the requirements of landmarks, to ensure the long-term stability of the structure, and to adapt it to a useable function. Faced with all these challenges, the "preservation organizations, preservation architects and elected officials" actually did a pretty good job.

Admittedly, the Parks Department is not likely to be the best steward of the land around the chapel, but the University should be up to the task of making sure the building lasts the next 100 years. The City did what it had to do to comply with the landmarks law, and the Architects didn't go over the budget. I challenge anybody to visit this building and say that the $700,000 was not money well spent.

Anonymous said...

The city should have sold the building to someone who would use their own money to pay for the restoration. What good is having a publicly owned building fully restored if it is going to sit behind a fence and be inaccessible? The original plan was to rent it out to church groups, community groups, etc to raise money to pay for the upkeep. They could have jazz performances in the school auditorium and still use the chapel as a chapel and make money off it. Another money pit brought to you by the NY Landmarks Conservancy and the Queens Borough President Office.

Anonymous said...

Also, naming the chapel after a jazz person who had nothing whatsoever to do with the history of the site or the school is ridiculous. Does Queens have to name everything after African Americans who lived here in order to get money to fix up our landmarks? Is jazz an appropriate type of music to play in a chapel?

Anonymous said...

It cost $700,000 to fix up something with the FAR of a one-bedroom apartment?

Damned Architect said...

More negativity here! While I feel this may be a useless conversation, here is my take on the Chapel restoration. The fact is, a private entity would never buy a landmark in that neighborhood and restore it. The Parks Department access issue just makes it a legal sinkhole! The City here actually did the right thing, difficult to believe as that may be for some.

The most cost effective thing for the City to do would be to tear it down and turn it into an extension of the weed-ridden "park" that surrounds it. However, they choose to spend the money to save the building for future generations. I thought this blog was against the mindless demolition and remodeling that goes on in Queens, so what gives here?

Anonymous said...

If public dollars are being used to fix this place up, then the general public should have access to it, especially since it is owned by a city agency. Why Parks and Recreation owns and is sinking money into a cemetery (basically a useless piece of land) is a good question.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. Parks is fixing up an inaccessible "not-a-park" while denying residential communities real recreation opportunities. Oh wait, we can play in the street once a year and call it a park.

damned Architect said...

Well then, if you are upset about this, get organized and fight for your community's right to use this new facility. The hard part has already been done; the building is saved. No doubt the land is more attractive now with a usable building than a week-ridden lot; that was my point. Again, nobody but the City would have undertaken this task.

As for the cemetery posing an obstacle to using the park, aren't some park spaces meant to be "passive" rather than "active"? Some park areas are just meant to be seen, not to be used by the general public. (Admittedly, this park could be better maintained!) You have a cemetery, then learn to deal with it in the best way possible. Besides, if nobody would want a falling down church, then certainly an abandoned cemetery would hold even less interest for the private sector.

Anonymous said...

Give me a break. I should try to "organize" the community to demand access to the chapel? Our tax dollars paid for it! Everyone should have access to it. Furthermore, there are private foundations that could have bought this property. And in this city, "passive" use still means people have access to it, they just don't play sports in it.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how up until the day of the dedication, the website for the chapel said it was to be restored for renting out to church groups to make money and now that's not the plan anymore since our tax money fixed it up and it became a private jazz and faculty club.

Phoenician said...

I'm so sorry that many of you naysayers are too young to realize that history has to be preserved - and yes, it does cost money. Do you care where your family is buried? Would you like it paved over? I live across the country and when I came east I could barely walk that cemetery for all the weeds, poison ivy and vagrants living among the tombstones. Cate Ludlam has done a wonderful job getting the restoration accomplished. Not all the funds came from the city. There were also many donations from private parties and organizations. I'm pleased to see the money go to something for which I had an interest. I knew nothing about the cemetery and chapel until a few years ago when Cate gave me a tour. Congratulations Cate!