Allen Ginsberg Made it Famous, Preservation Groups Want to Save it

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Downtown organizations rally to save Mary Help of Christians Church from demolition

Prolific Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg immortalized the East Village Mary Help of Christians church in his verse, - he lived directly across the street for over two decades - and now preservation groups are fighting to stop its demolition by developers.

According to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation's own blog, "It is hard to think of the East Village without reflecting on all of the counterculture, artistic and social movements that took place there]." [

"Certainly the legacy of the Beat Generation lives on in the spirit of the area," it adds.

Various Greenwich Village organizations held a rally last week in front of the 100-year-old church to plead with developer Douglas Steiner not to move forward with razing the church, its 150-year-old rectory and 90-year-old school building.

Richard Moses, president of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, noted, "Mary Help of Christians is certainly one of the most historic buildings in one of the most historic neighborhoods in our city and country."

"The building still commands a beautiful and very imposing architectural presence in the neighborhood," he added.

Steiner's development plan includes the construction of luxury condos and commercial retail space where the old church buildings currently stand.

Sara Romanoski, managing director of the East Village Community Coalition, explained the church buildings are an important testament to the Italian immigrant legacy in the city and to demolish them would be to do away with significant living monuments.

"We ask the developer to recognize the opportunity for incorporating these architecturally significant buildings into the new development," said Romanoski.

The groups have asked that Steiner build on adjacent property instead, which he also owns, while incorporating the church into the design.

Additionally, the church site was formerly home to a cemetery, and while the cemetery itself has since been moved, it is unclear whether there are still human remains buried under the property without a full archaeological evaluation of the site.

The New York City Landmark's Preservation Commission has not considered the church for landmarking, despite pleas by local preservation groups.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation echoed the others' sentiments.

"A smart developer would recognize that by preserving and re-using these historic buildings and building on the large adjacent yard, he would not only be doing a good deed," said Berman, "but creating an infinitely more unique and valuable development than simply bulldozing the entire site and starting anew."

The church, which had regularly held Spanish-language Masses, was sold by the Catholic archdiocese last year.

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