Neighborhood Development

St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery sits on what was once the bouwerie, or farm, of Peter (Petrus) Stuyvesant, the last Dutch Director General of New Netherland, who purchased the land from the Dutch West India Company in 1651. The boundaries spanned roughly Twenty-third Street to the north, Sixth Street to the south, Fourth Avenue to the west and Avenue C to the east.

His administration spanned from 1647 until 1664 when the colony was ceded to the English.  He was an influential figure in the early history of New York City and his accomplishments included the great expansion of New Amsterdam, later renamed New York, the construction of the protective wall on Wall Street, the canal that became Broad Street, and Broadway.

Since Stuyvesant's time, the people of St. Mark's - from early Dutch parishioners to the clergy of St. Mark's to arts groups and community activists - were and remain committed to the vibrancy of the landmark. Community life has revolved around religion, arts, and preservation for much of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The Arts

In the 1920's, Rector William Norman Guthrie incited the flourishing of the arts on the campus. He sponsored a Eurythmic Dance performance, featuring five woman dancing in flowing robes in front of the Della Robbia plaque in the Church's Parish Hall, which captured his assertion that, "the dance is the most inevitable form of expression; it is the human body speaking...An intelligent religion will idealize it". The dance was condemned publicly by those involved in the Church, but Guthrie was undeterred and continued supporting visual arts, theater, architecture, poetry and dance in the East Village. Examples of people associated with the site include Ruth St. Denis, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walter Houston, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Under the rectorship of J.C. Michael Allen, the residential arts programs solidified. Allen believed that artists were the few people who understood the relationship between Civil Rights and theology. Stephen Facey, arts administrator under Michael Allen, discusses Allen's committment to the arts in this Landmark Fund Lecture from 2008. The first residential arts groups began to take purchase on the campus in 1966. In that same year The Poetry Project, under the leadership of Frank O'Hara, Paul Blackburn, W. H. Auden, migrated to the Church. In 1967, Ralph Cook and Sam Shepard established one of the first off-off broadway companies in Theater Genesis. Danspace Project was founded by Barbara Dilley and Larry Fagin in 1974 as an affordable, experimental performance venue. After the 1978 fire, the pews were removed from the interior of the Church and replaced with a dance floor where Danspace performances continue on a regular basis today. Richard Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric Theater came to the campus in 1992 and although it ceased operations in 2010, its program, the Incubator Arts Project, remains as a supporter of local performing arts. 

For a more detailed description of the development of the Arts Projects and St. Mark's, Miles Champion has written a history of The Poetry Project entitled "Insane Podium" that is a testament to the power of place. 

Community Dedication

There are many other markers of continuous investment in St. Mark's Church from the outside community that endure to this day. In 1975, Georgia Delano, an area resident dedicated to the St. Mark's site, organized a group of concerned citizens called the Friends of St. Mark's to help with promotion, general support and preservation. Supporters included Merce Cunningham, Allen Ginsburg, Margaret Mead, John Cage, Lewis Mumford, and Meredith Monk. Following the 1978 fire, the Friends group became the Citizens to Save St. Mark's and helped raise money for the restoration of the Church. This organization was later formalized as the St. Mark's Historic Landmark Fund (501c3). Other outside contributers include the St. Mark's Greenmarket, which operates from the Spring to the Fall on Tuesdays in Abe Liebowold Park, and is one of the longest continual greenmarkets in New York City, having been around for 30+ years! Additionally, the 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Association and St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery co-sponsor an annual Summer Jazz Festival presented by Third Street Settlement School.


Illustrated map courtesy of Miriam Berman

 
 
 
 

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