More spooky doings

in the Bronx. A fresh length of topsoil is laid down in one of the new medians at 175 Street on the Grand Concourse. This will bring shrubbery and trees in all shapes and sizes to the neighborhood. It will, we hope, transform the lives of people here in some organic way.

Meanwhile, I happen to look up, and floating above, grey against the grey sky, is the cupola of what I am to find is a derelict church over one hundred years old.

It is all locked up so I can’t get in to see it. A fellow inspector tells me that homeless individuals had holed up in part of the building, until they were finally evicted, after years of effort.

The church was built in 1910, by Christ Congregational Church of Mount Hope, of Georgian-style red brick and white trim. Spacious and handsome, it was designed by  Hoppin & Koen of New York City, the same architectural firm that created the Albany County Courthouse and other distinguished structures. In the center of the building, the sanctuary has a domed roof of tin, painted green, and an entrance framed by a portico with four columns. I can vaguely see them behind the chain link fence. Above the portico is the square tower that is still visible, and which once held up a tiered steeple.

For decades the church had a large and worshipful congregation. There is an auditorium that can hold almost 400 people, as well as a gymnasium and meeting rooms. Recently it was owned by the Pilgrim United Church of Christ.

When things fell apart, paint and plaster peeling—supposedly because various pastors let the structure go to ruin – this was the result. It carries myriad Department of Buildings violations.

Its magnificent organ was silenced.  Made by M.P. Möller, in Hagerstown, Md. in 1914, it had a deluxe tubular-pneumatic action. It was tested in 2012 and found to be ruined.

Various residents of the neighborhood have fought so that the church would not be razed and turned into a proposed homeless shelter. The local Community Board sees potential for the building as a cultural venue for the Mount Hope locale. 1,000 people signed a petition. A determined few congregants still huddle in a side room to pray. Outside the locked gates, I meet a couple of young men who would probably be candidates for that shelter – they were standing, shuffling, seemingly waiting for someone. They inform me that the current Dominican Pastor is a fraud – they had in fact been living on the first floor and he evicted them and he doesn’t even own the 

building, they gripe. They don’t mention ghosts, but I am sure there are plenty around in the cavernous church.

They leave and the pastor arrives in his shiny red  SUV. Unlocks the gates, backs his car inside.

That must be Reverand Israel Martinez, he of the Iglesia Evangelica Los Peregrinos.

Maybe someone will succeed in saving this sad, crumbling architectural once-gem. In addition to new plantings and trees outside, the people who live in the neighborhood, could use a beautiful place to go, and to pray if that makes sense for them. It could be as beautiful as the new trees on the medians.

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