New York City is an endless source of surprises. 19 West 16th Street in Chelsea looks like a classic Greek Revival brick townhouse with four floors and a stoop that goes up to the parlor level. It blends in perfectly within a stretch of similar row houses. But the townhouse is actually a Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Yeshe Nyingpo, founded in 1976 by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. Rinpoche, who lived from 1904 to 1987, was appointed by His Holiness Dalai Lama XIV (the current Dalai Lama) as the “the first supreme head of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.”
In addition to a strikingly ornate interior filled with colorful tapestries, carpets, and sculptures, there is a throne used only for the Dalai Lama, who has visited during his trips to New York City. Recently, the New York Landmarks Conservancy awarded a $3,000 matching grant to Yeshe Nyingpo, part of 17 Sacred Sites Grants given by the organization $279,500, to restore the double-leaf mahogany front door. Restoration work began almost immediately in the last week of January and on our visit yesterday, work was being done.
Theresa Giorgi, the general manager of the temple, tells New York Press, “It’s a very special building — it’s so blessed and so holy, filled with prayers and blessings,” and that the door was on its last legs: “We were afraid that at any moment, that door was going to fall off its hinges.”
19 West 16th Street was originally built in about 1846 as part of speculative development encouraged by how fashionable Union Square had become. This row house is one of at least twelve on this block likely built by business Edward S. Mesier, of w hich seven survive. He had to adhere to the style of the surrounding street, which was to be developed “as a block of fine residences,” writes the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The building has been used both as a multiple residential and offices, and since 1976, as the monastery.