Church of the Nativity in Manhattan closes its doors, effort to save it continues
October 14, 2015
The original Church of the Nativity building was an ornate Greek Revival-style building constructed in 1832 as a Presbyterian church. The Archdiocese of New York purchased the site in 1842 and it served as the church until it was condemned in the 1960s. With limited funds and perhaps also reflecting church values of humility and living modestly, the parish council rebuilt a simple, Modern church. A parish history from 1971 notes that the parishioners were “not shopping for a Cadillac, but a building that is functional, economical and simple. [The Church] is being built solely for the religious and social needs of the people.” The church hired Genovese & Maddalene, a small architectural firm from Glen Rock, NJ specializing in church design, and the job was completed by 1970. The clearly Modern, Brutalist-inspired asymmetrical façade, the cinder block and brick construction, and the simple, white-walled interior suited the practical wishes of the church council and the congregation, which included famous Catholic activist Dorothy Day, serving them for the next 45 years, until its last mass this past August.
The church closing is part of a program of consolidations the Archdiocese of New York has been working on for years. The building is now officially closed, but it is still unclear what will happen to the property. Considering the prime real estate it occupies, many suspect it will be sold. Church supporters are pushing for a plan more in line with something Dorothy Day might have liked – to reuse the space for service for the homeless such as showers and a mail drop, as well as a chapel and retreat space.
“Opponents challenge parish closings, mergers in NY archdiocese,” National Catholic Reporter, September 23, 2015.
“Invoking the radical spirit of Dorothy Day to fight church closings,” New York Times, June 22, 2015.