Did you know that Trinity Church is one of the largest landowners in New York City? The Trinity Church Corporation has been actively converting the Hudson Square/Tribeca area from a hub of printing presses to mixed-use office, retail, residential and hotel spaces since the 1920s. But the history prior to that has not always been so positive, which may explain the name change from the Trinity Church Corporation to Trinity Real Estate.

In 1894, the New York Times exposed the church corporation for substandard living conditions in their properties on Charlton Street. Four days later, the agent for the tenements, a Mr. Peter E. Finegan (via his clerk) was interviewed by the New York Times and claimed to be the owner of the house and the leaser of the property. The New York Times refuted this claim, finding that Trinity Church had paid the taxes on the house and the taxes were in fact lumped in with the taxes for three other buildings on the same street. The attempt to shift blame away from the church was thus foiled and led to a lawsuit one month later–THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Appellant,  v.  THE RECTOR, CHURCH WARDENS AND VESTRYMEN OF TRINITY CHURCH.

A clip from the news article:

Reading the lawsuit now, it is pretty incredible what living standards were considered acceptable then, at least in practice. Trinity Church defended itself by claiming the following: the cost of supplying water was unreasonable, there was potential for “great danger of injury to the property” through pipe freezing, that nobody had complained about the lack of water, and that the law did not require the means to supply water for domestic use–merely the supply was sufficient. All of these claims were held untenable by the court. It also appears that in 1891, the church was already served a notice to “alter, repair, cleanse and improve the premises,” and to install suitable “appliances to receive and distribute a supply of water for domestic use” on various floors of their properties.

I also found it interesting to what lengths the church has gone to justify its large land holdings, which to its credit, had been initially bestowed by the Queen of England. But it still seems an attempt to spin their involvement in real estate and land speculation:

Trinity Church and real estate go together in many people’s minds, with good reason. As one of the largest landholders in Manhattan, the revenue from Trinity’s real-estate holdings makes the parish’s mission and work – in New York and throughout the world – possible.

This is what the buildings looked like in 2007, when a deal was struck to turn the block into a boutique hotel.