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Thread: Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine - by Heins & Lafarge / Ralph Adams Cram

  1. #1

    Default Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine - by Heins & Lafarge / Ralph Adams Cram

    June 17, 2003

    Landmark? Just Wait Till It's Finished

    By DAVID W. DUNLAP


    The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is expected to be declared a landmark on Tuesday.

    The news for most New Yorkers will probably be that as this day began, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine was not a landmark.

    Then again, given a pace of construction almost as medieval as the architecture 111 years and counting it seems safe to say that it will be a century or two before they put the finishing touches on the vast cathedral.

    By day's end, however, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to confer landmark status on a substantially unfinished structure for the first time, in an arrangement that would allow new buildings on the grounds, a prospect that worries neighbors and preservationists.

    The commission will continue to consider but not yet designate other historical structures in the cathedral compound, bordered by Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive, Cathedral Parkway and 113th Street.

    Even three-fifths complete, the commission said, St. John the Divine is the largest church in the nation and the largest cathedral in the world. (The largest church in the world is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, which is not a cathedral.)

    Only the exterior of St. John the Divine, the seat of the Episcopal bishop of New York, is to be considered as a landmark. By law, the commission cannot designate the interior of a religious sanctuary, even one that offers an experience akin to being in a dim and profoundly mysterious grove of Gothic sequoias.

    Robert B. Tierney, the chairman of the commission, said yesterday that the designation would culminate the panel's "37-year quest to landmark the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a building with a unique place in the architectural, social and cultural history of the city and the nation."

    Should the cathedral trustees ever find themselves with enough money to resume construction, they would not necessarily be compelled to follow the existing French Gothic plans by Ralph Adams Cram, Mr. Tierney said.

    But he dismissed as "too speculative" the question of whether the commission might one day approve a departure as radical as the glass-enclosed biosphere designed a decade ago by Santiago Calatrava to complete the cathedral's south arm, or transept.

    Until recently, the cathedral's leaders had opposed landmark status. But last year, they agreed to cooperate with a designation that would preserve development potential at the north end and southeast corner of the grounds.

    The cathedral trustees are negotiating with Columbia University to build on those sites. Designs would be reviewed by a committee that includes two members appointed by the landmarks chairman. New buildings would also be governed by legal controls on their placement, height, shape and bulk.

    These controls would be "very protective of the cathedral" and other existing buildings "but nonetheless allow for development at a sufficient scale to support the cathedral's mission," Robert S. Davis of Bryan Cave, the law firm that represents the cathedral, said yesterday.

    "And a very important part of the cathedral's mission," he said, "is the maintenance, preservation and restoration of its historic buildings."

    Many preservationists had hoped the commission would designate the entire grounds, known as the Close. "It was all built as various parts of a larger whole, and the whole should be preserved," said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. "That just seems like rational preservation planning to me."

    Among the notable structures on the Close are the Synod House, the Diocesan House, the Cathedral School and the 160-year-old Town Building, designed by Ithiel Town as part of the Leake & Watts Orphan Asylum, which preceded the cathedral on the land.

    "The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is considered the crowning glory of the Morningside Heights neighborhood, which came to be known as `the Acropolis of the new world,' " reads a draft version of the landmark designation.

    The cornerstone was laid in 1892 for a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral designed by Heins & LaFarge. In 1911, the trustees brought in Cram, America's foremost advocate of Gothic architecture, to finish the job. Still under construction, the 601-foot-long cathedral was far enough along to be dedicated on Nov. 30, 1941.

    But work stopped abruptly a week later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and did not begin again until 1979.

    The south tower then began to rise toward its intended 300-foot height as journeymen from England trained local residents as stonecutters. But after it reached 200 feet, the money ran out.

    A fire on Dec. 18, 2001, destroyed the gift shop, damaged the north transept and ravaged two tapestries. It seemed a crippling blow for a city staggered by the destruction of the World Trade Center.

    But the cathedral managed to reopen the smell of smoke still in the air in time for a Christmas Eve service.


    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2
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    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    Everytime I see an article on the Cathedral I hope for the slightest indication that construction will resume. *Watching and following the carving of the Central Portal was incredible. *I do hope some benefactor ponies up some dedicated (and restricted) building funds.


    (Edited by BrooklynRider at 3:20 pm on June 17, 2003)

  3. #3

  4. #4

    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    Small sculptures of NYC buildings in the facade of thes cathedral. Photos taken October 16, 2002.




  5. #5
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    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    Aww, aren't they cute?

  6. #6

  7. #7

    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    Caltrava is a bad architect, regardless this is one of his worst. Form follows function.

  8. #8
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    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    That looks hideous.

  9. #9

    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    Quote: from TLOZ Link5 on 9:38 pm on June 17, 2003
    That looks hideous.
    Yeah, to do that to an office building is one thing, but to a church? *shakes head*

  10. #10

    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    When you look at the other great cathedral in the world still under construction, the Calatrava proposal, though exceedingly flamboyant begins to have a context. *Take a look at the Sagrada Familia by Gaudi begun in 1882 ten years prior to St. John the Divine.

    Having just finished extensive research on Cram for a school project, he worked in the gothic stye because he revered N. Europe as the center of the world -to continue the greatness on this continent. *He is responsible for the look of Princeton as well as West Point, 'Collegiate Gothic' style.

    Calatrava on the other hand being from Spain, was clearly influenced by the sensuous curves of S. Europe (Bilbao is sooo sexy). *Dali and surrealism influenced the plasticity of this architecture a great deal. *I admire Calatrava for the noble belief that there is a 'contemporary eclesiastical style' for cathedrals, this may be true in Spain, but not New York.

    Cram, a contemporary of Wright, was very prolific spreading the seeds of American gothicism, and like it or not when we think church, or cathedral, a decidedly gothic picture comes to mind. *On that note I concur that the cathedral should be finished in a sympathetic manner.

  11. #11

    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    Cityskyscrapers - I nearly cried looking at the pics you took! Nice resolution...I had no idea they were there!

    As for Mr. Calatrava...I've read a book on his projects with pictures and descriptions. I think he's marvelous and what he can do with lines, patterns, curves, and just playing with shapes and pushing the envelope is amazing.

    However, I feel he needs to stay off of St. John the Divine. Hearst's new tower can get two architects to complete one statement, but this cathedral needs to be finished in the style and size in which it was meant to be way back when it was first started...

    I wish we could have a Calatrava building in New YOrk City. Foster, Libeskind,Pelli, Koolhas, Meier, and a few names that I can't recall are making their marks here for our future. I think it's time this Spaniard did the same!

  12. #12

    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    2003
    Having just finished extensive research on Cram for a school project, he worked in the gothic stye because he revered N. Europe as the center of the world -to continue the greatness on this continent...On that note I concur that the cathedral should be finished in a sympathetic manner.
    It should be noted that the Cathedral is done in two styles so far--Romanesque for the choir, alter and radiating chapels, and THEN gothic for the nave. *The original architects were a two-man team, and when one of them died, the Cathedral used that fact to get out of their contract with them. *Then they hired Cram.

    About the buildings carved into the Portal of Paradise: *and just what is happening to those buildings as depicted? *You will also find Jacob's Ladder depicted as DNA. *There is some wonderful work in the portal.

    I have a long history with the Cathedral--my first big commision as a renderer with my own studio was the cutaway drawing of the building that had stood on an easel by the entry door to the building for close to twenty years. *My first picture is also the one most seen.

    In the late 80's I did a photographic survey of the Cathedral and grounds for a big slide show that was presented in the Crossing for the 100th aniversary of the original competition to design the Cathedral. *I am currently thinking of producing a few series of large reproductions of my favorite of the photos. *There were a few thousand to choose from, but a couple are better than the rest.

    Construction on the Cathedral has always followed fundraising, and that is where my renderings have come in in the past. *I don't know what they are up to at the moment.

  13. #13

    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    It should be noted that the Cathedral is done in two styles so far--Romanesque for the choir, alter and radiating chapels, and THEN gothic for the nave. *The original architects were a two-man team, and when one of them died, the Cathedral used that fact to get out of their contract with them. *Then they hired Cram.
    Indeed, hence the alternating sexpartite vaulting, a totally unique solution to the problem of applying gothic to a Romanesque plan. *When gothic is thought of as a system, and not just ornament, the results can be breathtaking.

  14. #14

    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    Quote: from Jasonik on 11:51 pm on June 17, 2003
    When you look at the other great cathedral in the world still under construction, the Calatrava proposal, though exceedingly flamboyant begins to have a context. *Take a look at the Sagrada Familia by Gaudi begun in 1882 ten years prior to St. John the Divine.
    Note that Sagrada Familia also features a modernist facade (on the side opposite of the one that Gaudi finished), featuring a highly stylized Jesus. *In theory, it is possible to have a cathedral designed in two radically different architectural styles. *However, even judging by the way that only the Gaudi side of the Sagrada Familia is lit up at night, I would say that the public preference is squarely in favor of Gothic treatment.

  15. #15

    Default St. John the Divine Landmarked

    An incomplete office building's design can be changed, but a cathedral's is sacred? Remember that it would be the second time.

    Gothic Revival is crude compared to the original in part because the medieval craft and method had been lost. Go to Ile-de-France and notice the qualitative difference and higher level of refinement. St. John the Divine is rather unremarkable besides its size and the modern themes of some of its sculptures.

    A transformation by a modern master could add cachet to an otherwise boring historicist landmark. I dislike Calatrava. His extreme rationalism is anachronistic and often repels me, but there is no denying his brilliance and virtuosity. His keen interest in Gothic is not surprising given his passion for structure, which he also leaves exposed. I say give him a chance - since there's not much to lose.
    Last edited by Kris; May 10th, 2006 at 05:29 PM.

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