Glass houses

Project next to St. John the Divine stirs resentment, but is the dislike justified?

A view of the Cathedral as seen from 113th Street.
A view of the Cathedral as seen from 113th Street

What’s better than views of the park? Try views of the largest cathedral in the world.

That’s what the development firm Brodsky Organization is banking on for its latest project, the luxury rental building Enclave at the Cathedral, which is opening this year next door to the famous Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights.

The developer bills the project’s “views onto the cathedral and its gardens,” as a major selling point. They declined to comment for this article, but the building has attracted ire from locals who object to how it blocks views of the cathedral from the street. They accuse cathedral officials of letting greed blind them to how the development will impact the neighborhood’s character.

“This enormous development will cast in shadow most of the historic and magnificent church,” reads a statement from the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee, which tried to fight the construction with a petition. 

The dean of the cathedral, the Very Rev. James A. Kowalski, countered these claims in the New York Times. He said the cathedral desperately needs money the development will provide ($3 million per year) and that 87 of the 430 units in the building are affordable, which will add some diversity to the exclusive neighborhood.

Curious about this tiff, LLNYC took a trip uptown. In person, the Enclave’s contemporary aesthetic doesn’t match the look of the 1899 cathedral (despite Brodsky’s claim that the façade’s gray tones are “echoed in the stone of the cathedral”), but it also does not overwhelm it. In fact, the Enclave only obscures the view of the side of the cathedral from 113th Street, while the three other sides are still visible.

As a construction worker on the project noted, scaffolding surrounding the site blocks more of the view than the actual building will. He didn’t see much validity to the controversy. “This is just something the media blows out of proportion so New Yorkers get all riled up,” he said.

Still, locals remain adamant about their dislike of the development. A resident of Avalon Morningside Park, a high-rise on the corner of Morningside Drive at 110th Street who did not wish to be identified, said he found the project an “eyesore” that marred his view of the cathedral and Morningside Park beneath it.

“I guess my building’s a bit of an eyesore too,” he admitted about the Avalon, which is also on the cathedral’s property and attracted some controversy when it went up in 2008. “But the views are nice when you’re inside.” People in glass houses, indeed.