Monday, May 2, 2016

St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church

Last evening, after their Easter celebration, St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church burned in a massive, four-alarm blaze battled by nearly 200 firefighters.

Photos shared immediately on social media showed the church engulfed in flames, exploding through the stained glass rose window, destroying the roof, leaving nothing but the brownstone shell. Thick, dark smoke billowed high into the air over the area around Madison Square Park.

Tim Teeman, Twitter

photo: Zokster Something

The congregation of St. Sava had just celebrated their Easter services earlier in the day. Photos posted to their Facebook page only two hours before the fire showed a full house inside the landmarked historic church.

Early reports stated that no one was inside during the fire. Parishioners stood on the street, watching and weeping.

“We're all alive, but the building is gone,” the parish priest, Fr. Djokan Majstorovic, told RT. And what a beautiful building it was.

Easter celebration, photo via St. Sava Facebook page

In 2003, Christopher Gray wrote about the church for the New York Times. Built in 1855 by architect Richard Upjohn and sold to the Serbian congregation in 1943, it was originally an extension of downtown's Trinity Church.

Gray wrote, "The interior of the church is a spectacular antique -- a vast, high space, with all of the 19th-century decoration, hanging brass lamps, wall coverings, oak pews and polychromed tile floor almost untouched."

New York Architecture called the interior "Upjohn's masterpiece... Its loftiness and brilliance of proportion make it entirely different from anything else of its time. The most striking features, the long single aisled nave and open roof ceiling, resemble St. Louis' 13th Century Sainte Chapelle in Paris. When combined with the fully exposed truss ceiling of Norway pine, the beautifully polychromed panels with gold stars on a field of blue, and the painted apse walls (by German artist Habastrak), the chapel interior becomes as ecclesiastically proper as its Mother Church."

Easter celebration, photo via St. Sava Facebook page

By 9:00 p.m., photos showed a hollow shell, without a roof, as firefighters continued to spray their hoses on the steaming remains.

Some news reports stated that the structure was in danger of collapse.

Ashley Sears, twitter

St. Sava's was in the midst of restorations -- and negotiations.

In 2014, the Real Deal reported that Robert Gladstone’s Madison Equities sued the church for "allegedly breaching a letter of intent by not disclosing a $13.5 million bill the religious institution owed to brokerage Tenantwise. Madison agreed to help fix up the landmarked sanctuary on West 26th Street in exchange for the use of its air rights."

"Madison is looking to tap into unused air rights at the site of the landmarked church at 13 West 25th Street, as well as those belonging to the property adjacent to the church — just under 200,000 square feet of air rights in total — to construct a commercial building."

Councilmember Corey Johnson noted on Twitter, "Developer wants to build 850ft tower here."

That tower would go on the parking lot next to St. Sava's, home to what remains of the Chelsea Flea Market.

With the landmarked church destroyed, the future of both sites is uncertain. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, but investigators have officially called it "suspicious."

Update: Some say candles were the culprit. Others are not so sure.

after the fire, photo via St. Sava Facebook page


Caleo said...

A horrible situation, but I think we know what the future holds. The remains of the church will be leveled and the proposed towers will go up. Do they know what caused this. Seems suspicious.
A terrible loss.

Jim Holt said...

Edith Wharton was married in the church in 1885 (according to the AIA Guide to NYC).

Unknown said...

Disgusting greed. When I saw that fire it was so fierce that it immediately made me think it was set on purpose. If they let this go without punishing anyone then I am fearful of what will happen to the old Limelight club (church) and many other areas where they would love to take over the property. Disgusting greed.

Brian said...

It is a tragedy. A gorgeous piece of history lost to future generations. At some point we will have nothing to represent us but boxy glass condo towers.

Unknown said...

Hello Caleo, suspicious that maybe it was a horrible total Destruction look like something from World World War 2 doesn't it. I just got a email from a friend saying that 4 Orthodox Churches were torched around the world on our Easter Sunday May 1st. It was suspected that it could have been because of their protests against the upcoming canonization by Pope Francis of a Croatian former Nazi. Croatia have been known to pro Pro Nazi during World WWorld. And they're sociation pretty much affected what happened in Eastern Europe by the Nazis namely 650000 serbians that were slaughtered by the Nazis along with that they pretty much affected the serbs and the other people other countries in the former Yugoslavia