St. Ann's Church Facade

Art & Culture | History

A Bizarre yet Beautiful Remnant of Old New York Holding Court in front of an NYU Box

Saint Annes Church Facade East Village

About St. Ann's Church Facade

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • No, you are not losing it. There is only a front, a facade. There is no back. Yes, it seems pretty ridiculous.
  • The original 1847 church facade you’re looking at has been the survivor of two separate reconstructions. It is the facade that wouldn’t quit.
  • The building originally housed a Baptist church, then a synagogue and then, in 1870, St. Ann’s Roman Catholic parish moved in and demolished everything but the facade.
  • The parish hired architect Napoleon LeBrun to rebuild the sanctuary in French Gothic style.
  • A little on St. Ann’s: It was one of the wealthiest congregations in the city at the time it was built. Restaurateur Lorenzo Delmonico of the famous Delmonico’s downtown and the eponymous steak, commented on his pew rent being $575. Yes, people rented pews back then. More on that in another post!
  • The church eventually ran into financial problems. The former Rev. Thomas F. Myhan voiced concern that the estimated 1,000 Catholics that attended mass each Sunday were not enough to keep the church afloat.
  • Gifted a finger bone of Saint Ann, the church began to raise money by hosting annual novenas (9-day prayer events) that drew flocks of people seeking the healing power of the precious relic.
  • How’d it all end? After failed attempts to petition for landmark status, the church closed its doors in 2003 and the property became an NYU dormitory.
  • Saved again – Prompted by protests, the facade was salvaged despite the demolition, and the new dorm was built which now stands behind in its odd, dreary way. Well, at least it is a conversation piece and lets us now talk about follies….

Carpe City Trivia

What exactly is a Folly?

Today you might consider the St. Ann’s facade to be a “folly,“ broadly defined as an ornamental building that serves no practical purpose. While you might argue that the St. Ann’s facade is a legitimate preservation of historical architecture, other follies such as reconstructed Medieval towers and Roman temples have been built for the sole purpose of unique landscape design. Many of these purely decorative structures have also been built in times of hardship to create work for poor and have become known as “famine follies,” such as those built during the Irish potato famine. Want to check out another famous New York folly? Visit Belvedere Castle in the middle of Central Park.

Belvedere Castle Central Park
Belvedere Castle Folly in Central Park

What else did Napoleon LeBrun design?

We’re glad you asked. The answer is, extravagant firehouses! In 1879, Napoleon became the first official architect for the New York City Fire Department and went on to design over 40 structures, ranging from quaint and charming to daunting French Gothic design.  When you’re next in downtown Manhattan near the court houses, check out the landmark Firehouse, Engine Company 31 built in the style of a 16th Century Loire Valley chateau.

Napoleon LeBrun Firehouse
Firehouse, Engine Company 31 designed by Napoleon LeBrun & Sons

By: Kim Bielak

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