A summer storm tore through New York City last Thursday night. With it came a lightning strike to the 170-year-old Episcopal Christ Church in Brooklyn, a landmark building by Richard Upjohn, architect of Trinity Church in Manhattan, as well as several other landmark structures. The strike brought down large stones from the bell tower in addition to scaffolding (the tower had been under repair), which hit and killed 61-year-old Richard Schwartz, a resident who was passing by on the tree-lined sidewalk below.
I was stuck on the tarmac in Dallas at that moment, but would soon see the aftermath when I arrived home late that night—I have lived in a brownstone apartment across the street from the church for many years. Over the last several days I have watched the media circus come and go, the damaged cars hauled off, the arrival of several large cranes, and now the erection of an 8-foot-high plywood barricade, blocking the surrounding streets and sidewalks from vehicular and pedestrian traffic. An article in today’s New York Times, for which I was interviewed, provides an update. As of now, the residents have received no official word on the scope or timeframe for the work planned, but have been told by various demolition contractors and a DOB representative on the site that the bell tower is being at least partially removed over the course of the next four to six weeks.
While firm information on the church’s fate remains elusive at this point, it is clear that simply to stabilize the building, let alone rebuild, is a major proposition, financially and otherwise. The situation opens up questions about the preservation of a building that is an asset to an entire neighborhood: how the work should proceed and where the considerable resources will come from.