The following was the acceptance speech given by Christina Wilkinson, Chair of JPCA's Committee to Save St. Saviour's, at the Historic Districts Council's Grassroots Preservation Awards the evening of May 15, 2008 at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery in Manhattan:
“Back in 2006 when we learned the church was in trouble and it became clear that our elected officials, most of our community board, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the president of our town bank were all against the effort to save it, Tony Nunziato, who is here tonight, made a prediction. He stated, “A lot of powerful people want to see this building come down, so this fight is going to be as grassroots as grassroots gets.” And that it was. Therefore, the name of this award perfectly describes our battle.
Over the past 2 years, the St. Saviour’s saga took so many twists and turns that it seemed like a rollercoaster ride. We felt all along that the spirits of our forefathers, the founders of St. Saviour’s Church, were protecting their sanctuary and guiding us toward saving it. They also saw to it that certain people who stood in our way paid a very high price for their actions.
In the 19th century, Congressman James Maurice donated the land on which St. Saviour’s was built. He hired Richard Upjohn to design the church and added a restrictive covenant to the deed, believing that would be enough to make his gift last forever. The church stood for 160 years before developers, lobbyists and those in power attempted to take away all that Maurice had given to Maspeth.
When I received word that HDC had chosen Juniper Civic for a Grassroots Preservation Award, the fate of St. Saviour’s seemed sealed – it was on the fast track toward demolition. But, after a last ditch agreement with the owner had been made, St. Saviour’s was carefully dismantled piece by piece and was sent to storage earlier this month. There is a plan in the works to restore the materials, rebuild it at another location and open it as a non-denominational chapel and museum. This will no doubt take many months, if not years to accomplish, and during that time, the Juniper Park Civic Association plans to continue to fight to save the church’s original site as open space for our community.
In our entire council district, there is not one building that has been designated by the LPC. Our elected officials, past and present, have seen to it that our history has been obliterated, in return for campaign contributions and other perks. And historically, preservation organizations that claimed to be citywide in focus have paid little attention to issues in boroughs other than Manhattan. Thankfully, that seems to be changing, and HDC can take a lot of credit for that.
We’d like to thank Simeon Bankoff, Frampton Tolbert, Nadezhda Williams, Lauren Belfer, Kristen Morith, Christabel Gough, Kevin Daley, Kevin Walsh, Jerry Rotondi, Robert Singleton, James Driscoll, James Trent, Mary Jablonski, Nancy Cataldi, Henry Euler, Michael Perlman, Councilman Tony Avella and the late Lee Principe for their time and effort in helping to bring St. Saviour’s to the forefront of the preservation movement and for their support over the past 2 years.
And a special thank you to Paul Graziano for employing innovative and revolutionary techniques to shine a spotlight on St. Saviour’s and all historic and neighborhood preservation efforts, not only in our home borough of Queens, but throughout the entire city of New York. Under Paul’s leadership, HDC has gotten stronger, more influential and more respected. We are certain that the board, staff and members will agree that HDC has a bright future with Paul at the helm of the organization.
Two important lessons can be learned from our struggle. First, no matter how bad things seem, stay focused and never give up. And the second is that those who rise above cheap politics generally come out winners while those who practice it end up with their reputations in tatters.
On behalf of the 1700 families of the Juniper Park Civic Association, I thank you for this honor.”