Editor’s note: This is the third and final chapter of “The Saga of St. John’s,” allotment of an advancing alternation about celebrated houses of adoration beneath blackmail of abandoning in Jersey Burghal and Hudson County.
Dennis Doran — acute biographer of achromatic faces and abandoned names; accomplished acid Jersey Journal anchorman of burghal ills and inequalities; all-embracing memory-keeper of bounded history; accurate restorer and weariless administrator of age-old burghal mansions; acutely animated canning and association apostle — knew the Rev. Robert W. Castle, St. John’s Episcopal Church’s nationally acclaimed abbey and civilian rights activist in the 1960s, bigger than anyone.
He knew him intimately, accepting been featured in “Cousin Bobby,” Jonathan Demme’s 1992 documentary blur about his accessory Robert Castle’s able-bodied advancement in Jersey Burghal and Harlem.
When the rector, continued retired to his home in Vermont, heard that his above Episcopal abbey architectonics in Jersey Burghal had been bankrupt bottomward by abbot decree and afterwards bare of its Tiffany stained-glass windows by abstracts from the bargain abode world, beggared of its marble and circuitous memorials, and larboard to rot in adamant cycles of rain, algid and heat, the aboriginal being he accomplished out to was Dennis, a above chief ton at St. John’s and decades-long apostle and citizen of the city’s consistently threatened architectural landscapes — the actual aftermost of his kind.
Their complete adulation for St. John’s brought them calm in the backward 2000s — two warriors, sired and summoned to Summit Avenue and able to action the canning action that was about to unfold.
CREST OF CLIFTON PLACE
Dennis is never far from here.
At the acme of Clifton Place, aloof south of Fairmount Avenue in the Bergen Hill commune of the city, abaft demarcations of acid chain-link and aggressive and asthmatic overgrowth, the aback walls, burst acreage patches, attenuated walks, and alveolate accomplish and alleys of St. John’s assume abeyant in the blurred ablaze of this winter morning. The municipally landmarked 19th-century abbey architectonics is devoid, today, of all abutting treasures, surreptitiously removed years ago from their Gothic-arched fenestrations, aisled lengths of floor, tiered altars and aphotic belly and alcoves.
From all angles and every side, the structural comedy that is St. John’s, in the year 2020, is there for all of the burghal to see. Its south-and-north-facing alley rooflines are burst and acquiesce bright angle into the crumbling altar space. Echoes from aural — artery sounds trapped in the ashore nave, ricocheting, agreeable beyond angled spandrels adjoin the acute wing-flaps of birds in flight — are altogether apparent to anyone walking beyond the sidewalk outside.
It has taken decades for St. John’s to apparent into this abreast angle of blow and ruination. From 1871 through 1993, the church, already the epicenter of the better Episcopal archdiocese in the state, was the apotheosis of burghal architectural beauty, a ascendant centermost for civilian rights and association advancement — all reduced, in the aftermost 27 years, to a relic-on-display.
Dennis, who lives a few accomplish abroad in a adequate brownstone cipher capital in the aboriginal 1970s, looks at St. John’s through the lens of institutional disgrace.
He credibility to bis, long-retired, who bankrupt a cardinal of Episcopal churches in Jersey Burghal alpha in the backward 1980s, including Abbey of the Ascension on New York Avenue in the Heights, St. Matthew’s on Fulton Avenue in Greenville, and St. Stephen’s on Union Artery in the West Ancillary area. To him, abbot leaders shuttered these burghal churches in a sightless, blunderous beachcomber that abnormally afflicted communities in charge and placed, in the interim, a audible congenital ancestry at risk.
St. John’s took the affliction hit of all the shut-downs. First, not continued afterwards its decommissioning, three Tiffany lancet windows in the basilica were agilely extracted and auctioned away, their attenuate Plexiglas panels larboard as astral palimpsests.
Then, later, in the mid-2000s, an alfresco architectural deliver aggregation was accustomed abounding admission to the abbey where, during abundant van-hauling moves, they pulled up hundreds of encaustic attic tiles bogus in England; cut bottomward sets of blind finely-wrought-iron lamps from the nave; dismantled and yielded multi-ton marble shrines carved in and alien from Italy; and salvaged, afterwards the application of a distinct active descendant, war canonizing plaques additionally crafted by Tiffany Studios.
At some point, accessible chestnut gutters active the breadth of the clerestory were best apple-pie by audacious scrappers. Remaining stained-glass windows were either baseborn or smashed. Someone entered the architectonics and removed aboriginal pews, acutely with a saw. As damp and acute temperatures set in, adhesive walls bald and fell away, advertisement brick coursings and cast-iron superstructural members. A massive area of the axis attic collapsed.
Bergen Hill association and bounded canning groups did not booty agilely to this ballyhoo accident of architectural and religious culture, and, in 2005, launched a Save St. John’s! attack with Dennis and the Jersey Burghal Landmarks Conservancy at the helm. From afar, the Rev. Castle heard about the accompaniment of his above “child,” as he referred with aqueous eyes to St. John’s. All at already the rector, again in his backward 70s, was aback in Jersey Burghal appointment with association stakeholders — including Dennis, who opened his brownstone for meetings, and Ulana Zakalak, a awful admired architectural historian, canning adviser and adept apology craftsperson. In 2006, Dennis presided over the Conservancy’s canning awards commemoration at the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Journal Square, area the Rev. Castle, his angel acquaintance and comrade, accustomed the Jersey Burghal Legend Award as his accessory and Hollywood filmmaker Jonathan Demme looked on.
Local newspapers and account networks took apprehension of the attack and featured preservationists acclimation and boot in advanced of St. John’s. Dennis accomplished walking tours of Bergen Hill, emphasizing St. John’s’ accent to the community’s animation and rejuvenation. He and added preservationists met with abbot adopted admiral and attorneys in an attack to acquisition accepted arena for extenuative what was larboard of the abbey and abiding the building, with all its scars, aback to the community.
But conceivably the greatest moment in the action was in 2008, aback he, the Rev. Castle, Ulana, and Conservancy admiral Joshua Parkhurst appeared in advanced of the Burghal Council to appeal adopted admiral to battleground St. John’s and accordingly allow it the acknowledged protections that appear with designation. As bis and attorneys sat bashful and stone-faced in the audience, the Rev. Castle accursed them for sending St. John’s on a structural circling and affairs off memorials paid for by families of the congregation.
It would not be until 2013, a year afterwards the Rev. Castle’s afterlife at 83, that St. John’s would be clearly declared a burghal landmark, and, two years later, that a abbot non-profit association would advertise affairs to advance the St. John’s armpit into a “mixed-use” community. But as Dennis laments today, those affairs accept yet to actualize — and, in the meantime, St. John’s has become an encapsulated bean effigy, a apparition cairn in the caliginosity of adjoining large-scale, out-of-financial-reach development.
Entering a blurred parlor in the aback of the additional attic of the Driehaus — a one-of-a-kind art, architectonics and architectonics building housed in an complete 1883 abode in the actual affection of the abundant apple of Chicago — I encounter, finally, the two Tiffany-made stained-glass windows that were already allotment of the mystical autogenous of St. John’s Episcopal Abbey two-and-a-half hours away, via plane, in Jersey City.
Enraptured, continuing abutting abundant so as to see, in aerial relief, bleary particles and surfacings intricately formed, mind-numbingly multi-plated, and thickly textured, I footfall hardly aback to read, boxed beneath anniversary window, the names of abbey legends whose belief Dennis shares on his tours and uses in his active campaigns for extenuative bounded architecture.
Up close, abandoned in this alcove room, accession full-circle, I apprehend his and the Rev. Castle’s choir — overlaid in their intonations, accommodating and aerial at their alloyed base — and sense, all at once, achievement for the still-standing stones of St. John’s.
Editor’s note: John Gomez, a life-long Jersey Burghal resident, is the architect of the non-profit Jersey Burghal Landmarks Conservancy. He holds a adept of science in celebrated canning from Columbia University and teaches burghal architectonics at St. Peter’s University. Email him at email@example.com.
NEXT: St. Lucy’s Everlasting
Previous accessories in the series:
The Saga of St. John’s, Allotment 2: Abbey in charcoal was longtime belvedere for ablaze civilian rights preacher
The Saga of St. John’s, Allotment 1: History floods aback with display of stained-glass masterpieces
Erasure on Avenue E
Heritage in the crosshairs: Celebrated Jersey Burghal abbey demolished
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