st john building
Image courtesy of DNAinfo via a rendering by Handel Architects.

Two apartment buildings are set to be constructed on land surrounding the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on 113th street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. The land is already being cleared for development with sheds at the site being demolished, a cathedral spokesman confirmed this week.

The Cathedral agreed to lease out the land for 99 years to the Brodsky Organization, developers who plan to build 428 apartments, 87 of which would be part of the city’s affordable housing lottery. Those apartments would start at $696 per month, while market-rate apartments would start at around $1,700, DNAinfo reported last year. The developers are set to receive tax-exempt bond financing.

St. John the Divine is the largest Gothic-style cathedral in the world, even though its towers and transepts remain unfinished, according to Fodor’s.

The buildings are expected to rise 14 stories, with one wider than the other. They would be connected by a staircase. The developer did not need special zoning permits to build at the site, so the development did not go through a public hearing process. The Brodsky Organization did not respond to a request for comment.

The leadership of the cathedral has said they need the money to fix up existing buildings; without it, they say the cathedral could close. Another 20-story residential development was built on the South side of the cathedral a few years ago.

Some preservationists tried to stop the plan, arguing it was a blight on an historic spot (the Cathedral and its grounds are not landmarked, which I found pretty surprising for such a significant building).

Councilman Mark Levine says that the construction project does not have building permits, so the construction of the building cannot start yet. “The window for action is closing but we are still pursuing several strategies in coordination with the cathedral’s neighbors.”

The buildings would “render the outside of the lovely stained-glass windows/sculpture visible only to new apartments,” notes the Friends of St. John the Divine website.

“You are hiding God’s house,” said one Community Board 9 member.

St. John the Divine’s leaders agree that the rest of the rest of the cathedral grounds should receive landmark status, a cathedral spokesman told us.

The Daily News reported Thursday night that the firm doing the demolition has been tied in the past to the mob and had safety problems on a Columbia project where a worker died.

“Breeze National was booted off Columbia University’s West Harlem expansion project in 2012 after worker Juan Ruiz was killed and two others were injured during the demolition of a W.131st St. warehouse. The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration slapped Breeze National the firm with a $9,800 fine, which the firm settled for $4,900 last September.”

A West Side Rag reader sent in the photo below of the corner of Amsterdam and 113th street. She wrote “What a bummer.  Too bad they couldn’t develop just the rear side of that property – away from Amsterdam. It would be a compromise for them and the neighborhood. ”


HISTORY, NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 22 comments | permalink
    1. Lrahip says:

      What an utter disgrace. How can the leadership of the Cathedral allow this to happen. Once up, it will remain a blight on the Cathedral forever more. Imagine if this was allowed to happen next to Notre Dame or St. Peter’s or Canterbury Cathedral. This Cathedral is the American equivalent and yet this Cathedral administration has done nothing to try and find the money another way. Shameful.

    2. jc weiser says:


    3. Jake says:

      You’re absolutely right, Lrahip. Nobody cares. It’s always just about the money. That’s life in the good ol’ USofA. Money talks. Nothing and no one else matters. So depressing.

      • mio says:

        The question is do people really not care about aesthetics or tradition? And if not why is that? What do the children in public schools get tought beyond the three ‘r’s … My feeling is: nothing. No sense of history; no exposure to geography or the arts. It’s awful.

    4. mio says:

      Why are they constantly putting up apartments in NYC. The infrastructure cant handle it. The City seems not to be willing to support all the thousands of new people and cars and garbage and dirty subways that we have to put up with now.
      Why not create a lot more construction in the outer boroughs instead? There’s so much more space there…I dont get it?

    5. Kenneth says:

      Sure, why not? Easier than the Cathedral’s board actually having to come up with a funding plan. Just sell off the non-profit’s assets they were entrusted to protect, pay the bills and go back to sleep for a few more years. The money from the last apartment building constructed on the site didn’t go very far did it?

      • Elizabeth Kellner says:

        I live in Manhattan Valley. We lost our view of the cathedral with the construction of the first tower at the SE corner. My favorite view is from Manhattan Ave. between 110th and 112th. The street is very low, you look across Morningside Park and the cathedral rises up to the sky on a hilltop. There is beautiful symmetry with open sky to the south and n sidesorth framing the vast structure, but with these buildings, the open sky to the north will be blocked and the cathedral sandwiched in — so much for the view from Harlem!

    6. Bruce Bernstein says:


    7. G Gomez says:

      I think this is a terrible shame, but from what I understand, the church has no other choice. Money does not magically grow on trees for causes we like. It has to come from someone’s pocket. If you want to stop it, you can help — donate money and help with the fundraising efforts. Better act soon though.

    8. T's Mom says:

      It is the Cathedral which is a blight to this neighborhood…I have lived near this church for 36 years and they have never been good neighbors . They have continually ignored the perimeter of the grounds ,ie , the Morningside and 113 st sides of the street. Refuse of all sorts piles up on the sidewalk all the time.They have neglected to do anything all these years..They even had the nerve to say that they were putting up that ugly monstrosity of a building on 110 st to beautiful a “dark and blighted area”,,BALONEY. How much is the tuition at that school? They are a disgraceful bunch and now they are sandwiching this majestic cathedral between essentially two glorified parking garages…pitiful

      • jjacob says:

        It’s utterly sickening this cathedral is not landmarked and unbelievable what is happening around it…I’m sure if more of the public was aware (not just folks in the city)they’d be outraged. Maybe they should raise money on Kickstarter to save the cathedral…

    9. Gladys Watson says:

      I would love to live close to the church God’s house. As a senior citizen & retired teacher I will investigate to obtain one of the affordable housing apartment. In order to support Riverside it is necessary to raise funds & affordable housing is at a premium in NYC. It sounds like a win win situation to me

    10. PRL says:

      In most cases I am pro-development if it enhances a block or anchors a neighborhood. But this! This is a God-awful tragedy.

    11. NikFromNYC says:

      Finally some normal professional adults in the Columbia area? Whoopie! It’s so terribly lonely up here, across 110th St., all insecure and thus utterly obnoxious students in an era of massively inflated student loans, and enduring but rather boring seniors. That are was parking lots hardly used and a defunct old metal paneled shed that housed an overly optimistic CNC stone carving router for lack of real sculptors. Now the church can maybe afford to build a real tower as originally planned, I suggest using resin and polymer fiber reinforced cast cement.

      It’s odd since there’s this huge hospital right there but few of the staff hangs out in the neighborhood. Only about once a year do you ever see medical people chatting away in local cafes. Only a deli or two on Amsterdam. They are very busy and it’s hard for them to transition from hands on medicine to casual dining nearby anyway given their everyday conversation about blood and guts all day.

      • neighbor neighbor says:

        Before the “metal shed” (the “youth stone mason training program” that a. undercut the unions b. raised one of the towers some 50 feet and c. was linked to tales of an embezzelment scandal) there was a full-sized Soccer Field. How nice to think of a public plaza and recreational space protecting the newly restored vision of the Cathedral’s north facade.
        Do the 87 less-than-market rent appartments all get a view of the Hospital Emergency Room and Ambulance entrance? If I were a big-shot developer working to defile one of the prettiest intersections in the city, that is where I would throw the “20 percent below market housing units” bone — I sure wouldn’t waste a park view on poor folk…

    12. Bobby says:

      So will the affordable housing tenants paying lower rent be required to only use the side doors in order to get into the Cathedral, since the market rate tenants are the ones paying to save it? And do the market rate tenants get into heaven first these days? Given what is happening these days on the “Greed is Good” UWS, nothing would surprise me.

    13. David Jensen says:

      – Very important: what are the financial statements that claim the cathedral will close?

      – If there has to be source of income for the above reason, why not make it as artistic and religious as the cathedral? (e.g. restaurant, cathedral related shopping stores – the cathedral gets many visitors. There are probably many other options)

      – Would the cathedral have more work done with added income?

    14. Ces Solano says:

      Hi there!!! I am wondering when applications will be available for renting? Do you know?

    15. The Hammer says:

      It’s disgraceful. The fact is that the administration of the Cathedral lied: they said that anything constructed would be unintrusive and fit in with the rest of the architecture. I just found this, from the Cathedral’s co-warden on the Ship Of Fools site, from 2005 (

      “As the co-warden of the congregation I can say the plans for restoration and real estate development will make it a magnificent place to visit and to worship. I have attached the benefits of the current project and hope you will visit us in 2008 when we plan to reveal a newly cleaned and restored Cathedral.

      “Project benefits:

      > Assures the conservation and preservation of the Cathedral buildings and open space of the campus, a great municipal asset.
      > Sustains the religious, social, cultural and educational mission commitment of the Cathedral to the neighborhood and the City.
      > Provides an appropriate and restrained perimeter building design that is respectful of the Cathedral and surrounding community.
      > Creates a significant amount of newly designed outdoor space open to the public.
      > Increases access to the Cathedral grounds on four sides.
      > Enlivens the streets surrounding the campus, making them safer for pedestrians.
      > Increases substantially the long-term economic activity in the neighborhood.
      > Generates both construction-related and permanent jobs on the site.”

      Sandra Lee Schubert

      “Provides an appropriate and restrained perimeter building design that is respectful of the Cathedral and surrounding community.”

      “Creates a significant amount of newly designed outdoor space open to the public.”

      “Increases access to the Cathedral grounds on four sides.”

      Turned out to be total BS.

    16. Nancy says:

      Boy, things have changed since we lived on 113th street one building from Amsterdam in the 60s. I was trying to find out the acreage of the cathedral grounds to write on FB about the fact that with all the millions in gold, and all that prime property, the church does not pay taxes! While across the street from it, the people had to rent strike in those tenements when heat was turned off. If they need money, instead of dealing with the mob construction companies, they could sell off some of that gold.