4. Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Cathedral of St. John the DivineCathedral of St. John the Divine

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights has had a very complicated history with regards to becoming a landmark. The Episcopal cathedral, which to this day is still unfinished, was constructed starting in 1892 in the Gothic Revival style. Despite being incomplete, it is considered the largest cathedral in the world — meaning a church that is also the seat of a bishop.

Starting in 1966, the cathedral was considered for landmark designation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but because the cathedral’s structure was incomplete, the trustees wanted to wait until the cathedral was complete. Its north transept was never completed, nor its dome. In 1921, it was estimated that it would take 700 years to complete the cathedral, since it was to be completed using only traditional Gothic methods of construction.
In 2002, the LPC designated the exterior of the Cathedral but it was overturned in 2003 by the City Council, which followed the same reasoning — the vain hope that designation could include the entire cathedral close (the immediate area surrounding the cathedral). Had the designation stuck, the LPC would have had the opportunity to review every proposed major expansion afterward.

In 2017, the cathedral and six other buildings on the grounds were re-designated as landmarks, but in the intervening years two new residential buildings were built on the site, barring any possibility for the cathedral to ever be completed to its original design. Furthermore, the cathedral and close have undergone a great deal of construction and restoration since 2017. In 2019, the LPC considered proposals to preserve and rehabilitate the cathedral’s ceiling. Additionally, a fire occurred on Palm Sunday in 2019 at the cathedral, which destroyed oil paintings and left soot everywhere, including damage in the unfinished crypt which housed artist studios.