Locals Rally for St. John’s Episcopal Church to Be Landmarked

St. John's Episcopal Church

Locals are pushing even harder for the preservation of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Summit Avenue, bringing the issue before the City Council tonight.

A petition to save the church from demolition was recently launched and has collected over about 450 signatures in total through online and paper campaigns says community activist and McGinley Square Project founding member Ed Ramirez. While the church is more in the Bergen Hill section, Ramirez says the preservation of the church is also important to residents in neighboring areas like McGinley Square.

Local interest in the church was rekindled, Ramirez says, after a JCI article in May about the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy’s (JCLC) concerns that alleged asbestos removal at the site was actually the beginning of demolition. The building’s owners, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, denied the allegations.

“I thought it was interesting that this was still up in the air and people started talking about it,” says Ramirez. The McGinley Square Project, which mostly focuses on neighborhood beautification and restoration projects, took up the cause and started a campaign to save the church from demo.

“It’s a beautiful building. It may not be a church again, but it can be a community center,” says Ramirez, who thinks rehabilitation could be a better solution for the abandoned church, which dates back to 1870 but hasn’t been used since the mid-90’s. “There’s already a large lot next to it so if we demolish it, it’s going to be a vacant lot that will sit there unoccupied for 10 years. It’s not going to do any good.”

John Hallanan, president of the JCLC, says his organization has long pushed for the designation of the church as a historical landmark. St. John’s, he says, is an outstanding example of Gothic revival architecture, was known as the “Millionaire’s Church” for its wealthy parishioners and also was an epicenter for the civil rights movement in Jersey City.

More importantly, Hallanan says the JCLC has been trying to fight what it calls the diocese’s attempts to “demolish by neglect.”

“This is a self-created problem. They left it open for 20 years, what did they think needed to happen? It’s hard to have sympathy for people who let their property deteriorate and then complain when people tell them to fix it,” says Hallanan.

“They could sell it, which is the easiest thing. We asked them, how much do you want for the property? And they never really got back to us. And if their argument is that they have plans and landmarking it would get in the way of their plans? Well, they have yet to do anything.”

As for the sad state of the church, which was deemed unsafe by the city on March 7, Hallanan says it’s not as difficult to remedy as one might think.

“We’re fully aware that this building in its current state is in a dangerous condition. There are stones coming off the building, but it’s not structurally unsound. We could go on scaffolding and remove loose stones. It doesn’t require a lot of engineering work. Demolition wouldn’t be free, it would be maybe half a million, and if you have to spend it, why not spend half a million to fix it?”

The Episcopal Diocese of Newark did not respond in time for publication.

An ordinance to designate St. John’s Episcopal Church as a municipal landmark will be before the City Council today, June 19, at 6 pm.

JCI file photo courtesy of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.