Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Time Warp

There's a new zine in town. Time Warp, its editors say, will be "a sort of rallying cry, to pull people together and to inspire New Yorkers to create positive action against the forces consuming our home and creative culture."

The zine aims to "break through the paralyzing nostalgia for the old city." They write, "The condition of our gentrifying city will not improve if we let ourselves wallow in sadness, self pity, and nostalgia."

"Why Time Warp? Because PUNK IS NOT DEAD!! Because the situation facing our city (gentrification, class war, suburban invasion, cultural sterilization and parasitism) will not improve if we let ourselves be paralyzed by our longing for the past. We must realize that all is not lost. We must fight to PRESERVE what remains and to RESTORE what has been lost."

The editors are looking for stories and artwork about New York City from the 1960s to today. They are currently accepting submissions through the first week of April. For more information, check them out on Facebook. And contact them at timewarpzine@gmail.com.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Lambs

The Lambs is America’s oldest professional theatrical club, founded in Manhattan in 1874. It is open to actors, writers, and other theater people. Members have included Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, W.C. Fields, John Philip Sousa, along with thousands more.

The club has moved around quite a bit, especially in its early years, starting out at Delmonico’s Restaurant, settling on West 44th for most of the 20th century, and then finally ending up at their current location on West 51st Street in 1976.

But after 142 years, The Lambs may have come to the end of the road. Their landlord, the Women's National Republican Club, is hiking the rent -- and the future of this illustrious club is unknown in a city where the rent is too damn high.

I chatted via email with Marc Baron, Shepherd of the flock, about The Lambs' history and its possible future.

He explained: “The Lambs had a WW1 transport ship named in its honor, a train car in the 1920s (it still exists), a cigar, and a seat in the National Theater in Washington, DC. Our Lambs Foundation (founded in 1943) provides financial grants to non-profit theater companies, theatre charities, and education for the arts.

Any person working in theater, film, television, radio, music--whether a performer, writer, composer, producer--have had their lives touched by the actions of more than 6,660 Lambs over the Club's 140 years of existence.

Today, The Lambs continues in promoting new works of theater, and provides a congenial atmosphere where members enjoy the companionship of other professionals of the arts.”

The Lambs theatrical club is not to be confused with The Lambs Club restaurant.

After losing their own building on 44th Street, the structure was gutted and became a Chatwal Hotel. The hoteliers opened The Lambs Club restaurant in 2010. At the time, Sam Sifton called it "a clubbish offering from Geoffrey Zakarian, the silverback gorilla of Midtown hotel restaurateurs."

Marc Baron has others words for it. He says the restaurant is “feeding off our remarkable history and adding confusion that we are located elsewhere.” He wants to set that record straight.

As for the current space, Baron says, “Our lease expires July 1, and the landlord has asked for a 50% increase.”

That increase will force The Lambs to double their membership dues, likely causing them to lose members. They hope to increase membership and donations to stay alive.

“An increase of this size,” says Baron, “could force us to move, or worse, not find permanent quarters and, therefore, lead us to a horrible end.”

Keep up with The Lambs on Facebook

Friday, March 25, 2016

Greenwich Gallery Frame Shop


When Charlie Mom was forced to close last year, the building at the corner of 6th Avenue and 11th Street had just one street-level business left: The Greenwich Gallery Frame Shop.

Now it has none.

After 35 years in business, the Greenwich Gallery has shuttered.

photo: Richard Morgan

On one side of its empty storefront is the empty storefront of Charlie Mom. On the other side is the empty storefront that had once been the amazing Nikos Magazine Shop and has yet to become a Birdbath bakery.

More high-rent blight, all were shuttered--after decades in business--due to hiked rent. (I'm willing to bet that's the case here.) With no penalties and no regulations to stop them, the building owner has now emptied all the businesses from the first floor and is leaving them empty. Could they be hoping for a big-box chain store to take it all? 

Meanwhile, no one in city government is doing anything to stop the total destruction of New York's distinctive, local streetscape. We will become, in the end, one big suburban shopping mall.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Preview Sandwich Shop

On West 53rd Street, under the green awning for the Hello Deli, located in the CBS building, is an old sign for a lost sandwich shop.

Rupert Jee's Hello Deli was famous for its proprietor's appearances on the David Letterman show. But what of the Preview Sandwich Shop?

Just look at that gorgeous typeface. What more is there to say?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Greek Corner

There have been some rumors going around that the Greek Corner Coffee Shop -- which I first wrote about here -- is on its way out.

So I went in and asked around.

The place is located on 7th Avenue and 28th Street. It's been there since 1980. It's one of those New York places--cheap, simple, local--that's vanishing without relent.

When I went in for lunch, a bunch of tourists standing around outside harangued me. They were trying to decide whether to eat there or at one of the many national chains nearby.

"Do you like it?" they asked. Yes. "Is it clean? Is it clean?" They kept repeating this stupid question. "Is it clean?" I did not respond. They went away.

I ordered a BLT and talked to the people in the coffee shop. Here's what I learned: The building has been sold. The building might be sold. There are holdouts who won't budge. The building won't be sold. Everything will be okay. Who knows?

This whole neighborhood, just south of Penn Station, is going through a major upheaval. Old buildings are coming down and new ones are going up at a frenetic pace. Most of the new buildings are tourist hotels.

Specialty coffee bars are moving in between the odd little wholesale shops and the silk flower shops and the places that embroider ball caps and roll cigars and unpack ginseng from cardboard barrels.

We don't need more hotels. The city has become glutted with them. In 2011, Mayor Bloomberg announced that New York would soon reach a record number of hotel rooms--90,000--a 24 percent increase since he began his tourist-driving initiative in 2006. Leisure and Hospitality became the fastest growing industry, increasing at a rate of 27.4 percent, far outpacing health, information, and the financial services. We have rapidly become a city of servants, towel replenishers, and toilet paper folders.

But, above the Greek Corner Coffee Shop, we still have some industry.

I love the second-story windows of this building. I love walking by at night and seeing the inside lit up. The silhouettes of radiators and dressmaker's dummies. A woman bends over a table, cutting or ironing fabric. This is the home of Timberlake Studios, since 1986. They make costumes for theatre, dance, and opera.

In the 1970s, the studio's founder, Betty Williams, set out to save commercial garment patterns. From the website: "Encouraged by the Smithsonian, she started a drive to save patterns. It developed into a nationwide network of women (once called 'Betty's Brigade') that searched for patterns in attics, church bazaars, and estate sales. This led to a collection of patterns called The Commercial Pattern Archive, together with tailoring magazines and sewing instruction material dating to the 19th Century. It is a major resource for theatre and fashion designers and a permanent record of one phase of women's lives for sociologists and historians."

I don't know what's going to happen to this building. It holds pieces of the real New York, the city that is being wiped out and homogenized. So let's all keep an eye on it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hogs & Heifers Today

Hogs & Heifers closed last year, after 23 years in the Meatpacking District.

As the Daily News reported at the time, "Thor Equities purchased the building on the corner of Washington and W. 13th Sts. in 2013 for about $100 million, and when Hogs’ lease expired last year, the proposed rent jumped to $60,000 a month, from $14,000."

photo: Orchard View

Here's what the once brassiere-cluttered and colorful honky-tonk bar looks like today.

And the inside...

Talking about Thor Equities and its boss, Joe Sitt, Hogs co-founder and owner Michelle Dell told the Daily News in 2015: “They don’t give a shit. At the end of the day Thor is a company that deals with chain brands. They make a big display of how honored they are to be in a historic neighborhood, but then they decimate everything that made it historic. What are you going to put in, another Le Pain Quotidien?”

Looks like it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

5 Pointz Pit

What a thrill it was to round the bend on the 7 train into Long Island City and see the crazy, vivid vista of 5 Pointz, covered in graffiti art. Through the scrim of the dirty train window, all that color.

You felt it in your chest. In your heart. That flutter. That sudden flooding of feeling. Remember that?

from Untapped Cities

Then they whitewashed it and demolished it.

And here's what it looks like now when you round that bend.

Just a muddy pit. The footprint of what will be more glass, for glitz, more generic towers for more generic life.

New York, we are fucking everything up.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

West Street Demolished

In case you're wondering how winter treated that little vintage block on West Street doomed to the wrecking ball, well, it wasn't good.

Everything is gone.

Gone is the car wash, the auto body shop, and the Westway club. Gone, too, is the little Kullman diner that glittered abandoned among the ailanthus trees, stirring our imaginations.

Gone another piece of the real city, New York of usefulness and grit, of diversity and history. New York where you could get a grilled cheese sandwich while waiting for your flat to be fixed. New York of nude dancing and queer back rooms. New York of mortar and brick, of earth tones burnished in the sun.



And what's to come? The usual thing. Another generic box of luxury glass.

Ian Schrager

What did Rem Koolhaas say about the Generic City?

“The Generic City is what is left after large sections of urban life crossed over to cyberspace. It is a place of weak and distended sensations, few and far between emotions….

The Generic City is fractal, an endless repetition of the same simple structural module….

Instead of specific memories, the associations the Generic City mobilizes are general memories, memories of memories: if not all memories at the same time, then at least an abstract, token memory, a déjà vu that never ends, generic memory.”

West Street Vintage

Monday, March 14, 2016

Keller Hotel Get Scaffolded

At Barrow and West Streets, the Keller Hotel has been standing since 1898. Abandoned and boarded up, it is one of the last relics of the old age to remain along a stretch of Manhattan utterly glazed in luxury glitz.

The building was landmarked in 2007 and a residential conversion was supposed to happen, but it never did.

Now, a green scaffolding wraps around the Keller.

The scaffolding joins white X's in boxes, spray painted by the door to indicate that the building is unsafe, possibly with floors collapsed.

Does that new scaffolding mean work will finally be done on the old sailor's hotel?

If the day of luxury conversion is upon the Keller, it is highly likely that we will lose that beautiful, beat-up old neon sign, a beacon from an Edward Hopper painting to tell us that the city hasn't all gone glam.

Here's the sign when it was new, on the Keller in 1940:

via NYPL

And here's a rare shot from 1975 when the hotel housed Keller's bar, possibly the oldest gay leather bar in the city at that time, opened around 1959.

In the upper right corner, you can see the bottom "EL" of the hotel's sign.

photo by Hank O'Neal

Apple Awards

Last week I gratefully received two Apple Awards from the Guides Association of New York City.

One was for "Outstanding Achievement in Support of New York City Preservation," for #SaveNYC, and the second award was for "Outstanding New York City Website," for Vanishing New York.

Congratulations to the other winners and thank you to the GANYC. The apples have a good home, book-ending some antique guides to the city.

Click here for more information on the Guides Association and the Apple Awards.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Save Our Supermarket

Neighborhood supermarkets are dropping like flies all over the city, pushed out by rising rents. Here goes another.

The Associated Supermarket on 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues is being forced to close by a 500%+ rent increase from its landlord, Pan Am Equities.

Councilmember Corey Johnson and a bunch of other folks will be protesting this Sunday, March 13, at 1:30 pm. They say:

"This supermarket is an important source of affordable groceries for the residents of Chelsea and Greenwich Village. Join us on Sunday as we call on the landlord to negotiate in good faith and preserve a vital source of affordable groceries."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ghost Sign Gone

You may recall, back in 2008 or 2009, a building on 8th Avenue between 46th and 47th came down and revealed a fantastic ghost sign.

Rooms with steam heat, housekeeping, hot and cold water. Superimposed over a cigar box. A beauty.

Then another building came down, and a new building went up, the Hotel RIU Plaza. The tower was set back far enough that it did not cover the ghost sign.

Still, how long could it last? Would the powers that be really let the sacred tourists look out from their gleaming windows of the RIU Plaza at a gorgeously scuzzy antique like this?


On a recent visit to Times Square, I found the ghost sign has been wiped out. Buffed. Whitewashed. Destroyed beneath a thick coat of gray paint.


In this city, nothing old is allowed to stay.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Get Angry

If you're on Facebook, you know about the new "reactions," a set of emojis you can choose to react to a post. Instead of just "like," you can now express: Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. You can probably guess that this is all about collecting emotional data for the purpose of advertising. But it also provides data to the individual user about how readers are reacting to their posts.

And that confirmed something I've long suspected about the emotional state of New Yorkers--at least the ones who follow Vanishing New York.

Last week, we experienced a number of losses in the city, especially in the East Village. Trash & Vaudeville left St. Mark's Place. St. Mark's Bookshop shuttered for good. The Stage restaurant announced it would not reopen. I posted the news on my Facebook page and people reacted. While the majority still used the old "like" button, many others opted for an emoji.

How do people feel about these closures? Most feel sad. And not enough feel angry.

Reacting to the news of The Stage vanishing, 22 people chose Angry while 43 chose Sad. For the closing of 69 Bayard in Chinatown, 15 were angry while 26 were sad. For Trash & Vaudeville, 80 were angry and 148 were sad. For each post, it seems that twice as many people choose sad instead of angry.

And that's not good.

While sadness is certainly a natural reaction to loss, the emotion often comes with resignation and hopelessness. It can collapse on itself, coupling with a sense of futility, and may lead to apathy. Sadness does not move anyone to take action. Sadness curls into a ball. Or it sits on the couch, clicks buttons, eats snacks, and says, "What's the point?"

Anger, on the other hand, is energizing. It helps people to move, to fight, to stand up and say "No!" Anger can lead to action and creativity. Anger can lead to positive change.

While I understand the despair and its attendant feelings of powerlessness--I feel it, too--this city needs angry people. But every time I post news of a closure, I watch the Sad faces multiply twice as fast as the Angry faces.

I suspect that you feel more sad than angry because you think that all these losses are inevitable, part of the natural cycle of normal urban change. Listen: These losses are not inevitable and they are not natural. They are the direct result of decades of public policy. And policy can be changed--but only angry people can change them.

We can act up against the homogenization of our city. We can act up against hyper-gentrification. We can act up against rising rents and evictions. It is not futile. We are not powerless. But you're going to have to get angry. You're going to have to muster something better than a sad face.

Go to #SaveNYC and Take Action. Send a letter. Start a group. Organize an event, a protest, a rally. Make public art. Even simpler: Just talk about what's happening in a different way.

This is important. Stop saying "it's sad." Stop saying "New York is always changing." I'm sick of hearing that one. While there is of course truth in that statement, it is being used to disempower you and distract you from the truth. While we're on the topic, you are not "just being nostalgic." You are watching a city die. It is a global pandemic. It is real. And it has been engineered by the people in power. Doesn't that piss you off?

We have to change the discourse around this or we will not have a city tomorrow. At the very least, shift your emotions. An emotional shift can take us in a different direction. Get angry. Then tell your friends and families and coworkers that you're angry. Tell them that these changes are not natural. Tell them you're not just being nostalgic. And tell them what can be done to save the city.

Let New York see your angry face. It's now or never.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Moving Out Trash & Vaudeville

Before the corpse could get cold this week, movers have already started emptying out the recently shuttered Trash & Vaudeville.

The legendary punk shop closed this past Sunday. It is moving to a smaller space on 7th Street.

According to the Times, owner Ray Goodman "decided to relocate because of the rent, which had risen to $45,000, and because the street, once synonymous with punk culture, 'became a food court,' he said."

If The Gap and 7-Eleven and the 9 million Japanese restaurants and fro-yo joints didn't kill the iconoclastic soul of St. Mark's, well, the loss of Trash & Vaudeville has got to be the final nail in the coffin. (What's left to lose? St. Mark's Comics, Grassroots...)

The Trash & Vaudeville movers moved quickly.

Out went alien heads, framed Ramones posters, and Doc Martens boot stands. Boxes, crates, and lots of hot-pink bags.

A crowd of mannequins, still dressed in their Blondie t-shirts and chaos pants, lay stacked together in the moving truck, awaiting their new home. They looked like the former denizens of St. Mark's Place, their style no longer fitting for the street's new clientele. They should be wearing NYU sweatshirts and UGGs.

The upstairs of the shop is now empty, a hollow shell of white walls in need of a thorough spackling.

And that shadowy downstairs window, once a beacon to punks both young and past their prime, has lost its lightning-boltish TRASH neon sign, its spiked bracelets, and creeper shoes. I must have walked past it a hundred thousand times, looking to it for solace in the twenty-first century night.

The vitrine now holds nothing but a layer of pink netting and faux fur. Trash & Vaudeville has left the building.

And the building has been sold for $11.9 million. What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

My guess: A high-end, shopping mall clothing chain--the shape of St. Mark's to come. Or else another karaoke bar.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Stage


After being forced to close after the Second Avenue explosion, after fighting eviction from their landlord, Icon Realty, and crowdfunding for support, The Stage just announced they will not be reopening. On Facebook they write:

"Today we officially close our doors....As overwhelmingly unfortunate as it is, it's always important to look on the bright side of things. Time to say goodbye to yesterday and hello to tomorrow."

Last night, their metal gates were open, causing some of us to hope for a reopening. Robert Brenner took a photo and wrote on his Facebook page:

"Saw the gate up at the Stage Restaurant after being shuttered for months and got hopeful. But my source tells me the landlord was just changing the locks. The landlord has doubled the rent and wants the Stage out of there one way or another."

And it's another heartbreaking loss for the East Village. #SaveNYC.

photo: Robert Brenner

Stage owner Roman adds the following message via Facebook:

Dear wonderful and loyal customers, fans, friends, and neighbors,

It is with bittersweet emotions that we at Stage Restaurant are announcing that we are closing our doors permanently after 35 amazing years. The events of the year have been overwhelmingly devastating on us and we have decided to close the Stage’s door.

Over the past year, we have resolved our dispute with the landlord and Icon Realty Management. Stage Restaurant never engaged in any wrongdoing; however, after our prolonged closure and because of the cost to make the repairs and expenses of reopening, we are sad to say that the Stage cannot reopen.

It has been our great honor and pleasure to serve and truly be a part of the community over the past 35 years. We are so grateful to all who have made the experience of running this restaurant in such a vibrant, and supportive area of this great city a remarkable and unforgettable journey for us. We will greatly miss our staff, many of which have put as much care and effort into the business as our family has. We would like to thank all of the customers we have had the pleasure of meeting for your business and friendships. Thank you all for your support, your signatures, your donations, and especially your kind words. We could not have realized our passion and love for nourishing and providing a place of comfort and gathering to the community without you all. Your loyalty, support, kindness and love have been a true blessing, and something we will never forget. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

Roman Diakun

And here's how one angry local expressed their feelings about the closure today -- via E.V. Grieve -- a notice taped to the door that reads "Closed by order of a money grubbing landlord and real estate development scum."

The Chelsea Stone

The Chelsea Stone
Restoring St. Peter’s Chelsea

Guest post by Romy Ashby

One of my favorite neighborhood places is St. Peter’s, the pretty old stone church on West 20th between 8th and 9th Avenues where it has stood since 1837.

It has a wonderful history, and I love the sight of it on misty nights when the tower all but disappears, leaving just the glowing clock. In nice weather I like to sit on the steps in the evening and read a book. Sometimes the mysterious black-and-white churchyard cat emerges from the shadows, at the magic hour before dusk, to examine the glass bowls set out for her at the side of the rectory. That’s a moment when I can feel flooded with quiet love for New York, and all feels right in that little corner of the world.

I love the interior as much as the outside of the church--the original pews with their little doors and latches, the Tiffany windows, the wooden balconies, the two magnificent organs, both built by prominent local organ builders of the day, Henry Erben and the Roosevelt Organ Company.

The church bell in the tower was made locally as well, by the F.A. Allaire ironworks company, and the original mechanism that turned all four clock faces at once, made by Seth Thomas, is still in place, although the clock now works on a computer. Reverend Stephen Harding, the interim pastor of St. Peter’s, has climbed up into the old tower to make little videos and then posted them on YouTube so all the world can see its marvelous secrets.

Pastor Harding is one of eight FDNY chaplains, and he personifies the welcoming kindness of the church itself. When he first came in 2013, he saw how bad the old church was feeling, with some of the symptoms hazardous. “The plaster underneath the balcony started to crack in a significant way, and the ceiling in the corners of the church were starting to fall,” he told me. “So I said to the vestry, ‘We have to do something, whether it’s fix the plaster so that it doesn’t drop on anybody and kill them, or fix the piers. It doesn’t matter. But we have to start.’ The vestry approved the hiring of William Stivale, who had done the work on our bell tower in 1990 and actually saved it, because it was about to fall apart.” Now that the four piers have been safely restored, the original tin roof of 1837 is about to be replaced.

“St. Peter’s has a pitched roof,” Pastor Harding explained, “and underneath the roof there’s an attic, and then there is the church ceiling with a catwalk over it. So when we’re in the church and we look up, we see the church ceiling, which is actually suspended from the roof. The worst-case scenario would be the plaster getting wet and then drying, adding an enormous amount of weight to the load the roof is holding, and then falling.”

The other vital project getting underway is the repointing of the stones--made of Manhattan Schist from Spuyten Duyvil--which means scraping out the old mortar and replacing it so that the stones don’t shift. Pastor Harding said he hopes that a high school or college group looking for a project might take on the restoration of the Henry Erben organ under supervision. “It’s a mechanical instrument, which means there’s no electricity in it,” he said. “You push here and something happens over there. It’s the one that Clement Moore played when he played the organ at St. Peter’s.”

Almost everything about the old church needs restoring or repair, and the same goes for the rectory next door. A little over two million dollars has already been raised so far, and Pastor Harding has said another thirteen million is needed.

Sometimes I volunteer in the church rectory, doing whatever task is at hand, and recently I’ve been going through old papers forgotten for decades in the time capsule of an old file cabinet. I’ve found all kinds of interesting things jumbled together there.

Beautifully printed 19th-century bulletins, flyers and newsletters from the ‘60s and early ‘70s announcing fights against evictions in Chelsea, anti-war events, a feminist costume ball, a theatrical performance called “Shades of Lavender” benefiting an early gay rights discussion group, and a demonstration planned before the Brazilian Consulate on Fifth Avenue to demand the release of Judith Malina, Julian Beck, and other members of the Living Theatre from prison in Brazil.

I found receipts from 1959 and 1960 for every imaginable church expense. For incense from the Ave Maria shop at 11 Barclay Street, hymnals from the Church Hymnal Corporation at 20 Exchange Place, furniture from the Lehigh Chair Company at 106 Duane Street, sheet music for William Byrd’s “O Magnum Mysterium” from H.W. Gray at 159 E 48th Street, letterhead from the Speed-O-Lite Offset Corporation at 121 W. 17th Street.

Beanies from Magnus Craft Materials at 108 Franklin Street, deposit slips from the Chelsea National Bank, and receipts for palm leaves sent over from the Kervan Company at 119 West 28th Street, where a huge new Hilton Hotel now stands. There were too many to list. In 1960, everything was bought and mostly made locally. I felt a pang looking at all this tangible evidence of the kind of self-sufficiency being championed by Jane Jacobs at that time.

Not long ago, on my way to the rectory, I stopped into a clearing-out sale at La Lunchonette, the charming little restaurant on 10th Avenue and 18th Street there since 1988. It closed recently, not because the owners wanted to close, but for the now unremarkable reason that the landlord had sold the building to a developer. It will be demolished along with several others--including two little ones on 18th Street once photographed by Berenice Abbott--to make way for a new condo building. I bought a few glasses, just to have something to remember it by, and left feeling terribly sad that La Lunchonette and the pretty buildings of that corner will no longer exist. Sometimes living in New York can feel like being in a state of perpetual mourning.

I asked Pastor Harding if he too notices how much of the city is disappearing. “Yes,” he said. “And it seems overnight. I grew up in the city in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I’ve been living here since 1980 as an adult. And some days I walk in Manhattan and I think I’m in a theme park.” One of his reasons for taking on this huge project to restore the church building is so that St. Peter’s can once again be a force for good in the neighborhood. “We aren’t just making a museum out of it,” he said. “Our mission for the next four and a half years is to connect with our neighbors and the neighborhood.”

One of his ideas for how to raise money was to create the Adopt a Stone from St. Peter’s Campaign, where one can adopt a stone for $25, $50 or $100, and take stewardship of preserving an actual part of the church. Shortly after he told me about the idea, I excavated from the old filing cabinet a fragile collection of letters, papers and clippings. A printed sheet entitled “The Chelsea Stone,” dated “Advent—A.D. 1936,” caught my eye, announcing that a fragment of stone from the Chelsea Old Church on the Thames in London had been brought to New York and set in a wall of St. Peter’s (where it is today). The occasion was written about in the New York Sun. Then I read a letter dated October 23, 1946, sent to the rector of St. Peter’s from the incumbent of Chelsea Old Church in London, which was destroyed by bombing in 1941. “Its quiet beauty and charm, and its great historical interest drew many thousands of visitors to it before the war,” he wrote, “including many from the USA.” A decision had been made to rebuild the church, and what he wrote next I found particularly moving:

“We understand that the Government, through the War Damage Commission, will contribute largely to the cost of rebuilding, but it seems clear that a considerable sum of money will have to be raised by us, over and above whatever we may receive from this source. Historical and sentimental ties bind together your parish and ours, which the piece of stone from our Old Church, built into the fabric of yours, is a symbol: and it is on these grounds, as well as on those of the many strong bonds between the peoples of the USA and of Britain, that I am venturing to write this exploratory letter to enquire whether you feel that the people of your Chelsea would be willing to assist the people of ours to rebuild our famous and beloved Old Church.”

As part of a historic district, St. Peter’s Chelsea is landmarked. But such a designation doesn’t come with funds or guarantees. It may be safe right now from a fate like that of some of the churches demolished in recent years to make way for condo buildings, but were it to crumble, anything could happen. The only sure way to guarantee St. Peter’s safety and longevity is to restore it to health, and we hope that many people will be willing to assist in rebuilding our own famous and beloved old church. As Pastor Harding put it, “Our footprint is one of the only connections that exists to Clement Clarke Moore’s apple orchard. Here’s something you can do to keep this link to Clement Moore’s Chelsea alive,” he offered: “Help us preserve St. Peter’s by adopting a stone. Your participation in this campaign will help us repoint the walls of the church and keep it standing.”

To adopt a stone, visit the contributions page on the St. Peter’s Chelsea website or text xmaschurch to 50155. If you would like to make a larger contribution please contact Fr. Harding at sharding@stpeterschelsea.org.

Romy Ashby is the author of several books, most recently Stink. She also writes the blog Walkers in the City. You can find her at her website, RomyAshby.com.