JAMES STREET, Civic Center

by Kevin Walsh

The area of Manhattan east of City Hall and between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge underwent drastic changes in the 20th Century…

 

Most of the streets seen on this 1880s map have either been completely obliterated or at least have acquired new names. Most of them were wiped out from the 1930s through the 1960s by the construction of the Alfred Smith Houses (the “Happy Warrior” NYS Governor lived as a boy in the neighborhood and a building in which he lived on Oliver Street still stands) and by the construction of the new NYPD Headquarters just east of City Hall. The street called New Bowery here is now called St. James Place.

The street I’m concentrating on today, James Street, once ran a full 7 blocks from Park Row southeast to South Street (including James Slip between Cherry and South). Today, only the short piece from St. James Place to Madison remains (marked in red) , and seemingly, that piece was spared to protect what was likely James Street’s most important building.

St. James Church is the second oldest building associated with the Roman Catholic Church in NYC. (Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Mott and Price Streets, built in 1810, precedes it.) The fieldstone, Doric-columned Greek Revival building was begun in 1835 and completed in 1837; and though it is thought to be a design of famed architect Minard Lefever there is no evidence to support the claim. A domed cupola above the sanctuary was removed decades ago.

The organization that runs the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in NYC, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, had its origin here at St. James Church in 1838.

In 1836, the year the church opened, the American branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded in its basement, in response to much anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment in the city, including a nearby church called St. Mary’s on Grand Street being burnt to the ground.  In 1983, the A.O.H. funded the restoration of the building after city officials ordered it closed down due to fear of the roof collapsing, and saved it from being demolished by 1986.  Alfred E. Smith, former Governor of New York State and the first Catholic to run for President, was an altar boy here as a child.  In the 1880s, he described the church as the “leading Catholic parish in New York, not excepting the cathedral itself.”  In 2007, work began to be done to restore the 1889 organ. Right Here NYC

The AOH lobbied to save the church after its roof collapsed in 1983. St. James also survived a destructive fire on 1/11/2011.

 

The church bears a plaque honoring Padre Felix Varela Morales (1788-1853), a philosopher, patriot, educator and abolitionist as well as a proponent of Cuban independence form Spain. Though elected to the Spanish legislature in 1821, he was forced to flee Spain in 1823 after being accused of treason. Establishing himself at St. James, he dedicated himself to social reform and was a constant champion for the civil rights of immigrants here for his remaining years.

 

The fence in front of the parking lot next to St. James honors  Pfc. Frank Vallone of the Marines, who was killed in Vietnam in 1968.

 

Looking southeast on James Street toward the Al Smith Houses. The spirit of Smith hovers over the neighborhood, in which he grew up.

St. James Elementary School was established in 1854 at the corner of James Street and what is now St. James Place. Until its merger with St. Joseph School and subsequent move to nearby #1 Monroe Street in 2010, it was proud of the future Governor’s attendance there as a kid — it still marks the occasion on its front door. Soon after Smith’s death, New Bowery was renamed, in 1947, for the parish and school he attended as a youth. In 2010, the Church of the Transfiguration School moved into the building. Located at 25 Mott Street, it, too, is among the oldest Roman Catholic churches in the city, though it has been in the church building, constructed in 1801, only since 1853.

 

The lowest house number on James Street is here at #22. Houses with lower numbers were eliminated when the portion of James Street between Park Row and St. James Place was eliminated to make way for the Chatham Green Houses.

2/27/14

 

43 comments

Rose Mary (Mc Grath) Neal February 28, 2014 - 9:54 am

Thank you so much for the information regarding James Street/St. James Place. My father and his family all grew up in the neighborhood. You have given me now tid-bits on the area.

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Preston Mardenborough August 26, 2014 - 12:15 am

Wonder if you or your father knew the natiello family from James street? You can email me at niteone777@gmail.com. Would love to talk. Thanks

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John Perry February 9, 2018 - 8:38 am

May have know your family did you have brother. I grew up in KV which on Monroe Street

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Jim Wing February 28, 2014 - 11:19 am

Excellent pics of my old parochial elementary school, St. James. I went there in first grade in 1960. In the first few weeks of school, a nun rapped my knuckles for being inattentive. I was an immigrant kid at the time and couldn’t understand English. I was quite devout and came VERY close to becoming a Catholic and having Communion. But since that unpleasant experience with that nun, I have cooled my ardor towards any faith. Interesting that you didn’t point out the old Portuguese Jewish cemetery next to the church as the diaspora Jews sought religious freedom in a liberal New Amsterdam under the Dutch. . Also, I think St. James Church is permanently closed and condemned for structural problems. . Surprised, it wasn’t declared an historic landmark by the preservationists or by the New York Diocese.

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domish13 March 1, 2014 - 10:29 pm

St. James Church was closed after the 2011 fire. The merged school was closed in June 2013; there is now a charter school at the St. Joseph’s site. Also, there is a strong possibility that St. Joseph’s Church will be closed by the Archdiocese later this year.

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Preston Mardenborough August 26, 2014 - 12:17 am

Very sorry to hear that. Former governor Alfred smith was an alter boy there.

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TomfromNJ March 2, 2014 - 4:25 pm

The congestion and crowding of buildings in that 1880 map is amazing…..Very little open space other than the roads. From what I can tell a lot of old style tenements with no windows on the sides….The two blocks in the lower left corner appear to be almost completely built out…..Must have been very uncomfortable to live there…

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Preston Mardenborough August 26, 2014 - 12:21 am

If anyone remembers this neighborhood around the 1960s or so I would love to hear from you. I dated a girl from James street for a short while. And remember a few place that existed there. You can email me at: niteone777@gmail.com

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Catherine O'Neill December 17, 2014 - 4:27 pm

My grandmother Jane Garretson was in the same class as Alfred E Smith. She lived on
Henry Street just a block or so away.

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Michelle Malaspina Gruden December 25, 2014 - 9:16 am

My family lived in the projects and all of us attended St. James School with pride. Sorry to hear about the fire and the closing. We were married in the church in 1966.

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John Perry January 31, 2018 - 9:20 pm

My wife grew in Al Smith we to got married in St James I grew up in KV I tried to save St James but could not do

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Joanne Rao Perrotta September 23, 2018 - 12:22 pm

Michelle, remember me? I was your sister’s friend. We visited you in Connecticut when your children were very young. My sister Lynne is a Facebook friend of your brother Glen. Hope you & the family are doing well.

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Grandma from James St. January 5, 2016 - 7:03 pm

My grandma was born into a household here. Specifically it was the Ferrara family at 2 James St., in 1909. Please reply if you know which section of James St. this was (considering how this street has changed over the past century). Also looking for stories of people who knew the Ferraras around that time. Even though it’s a common last name, someone may recall my grandma’s family.

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Emily August 19, 2017 - 9:05 pm

I just came upon your notes about James Street and the Ferrara Family. My grandparents raised their family at 52 James Street. my mother was one of -8- children. Her sister (my Aunt Helen) married into the Ferrara Family. However, I’m not sure it is the same family. Aunt Helen married in the late 1940’s to Carmine Ferrara (I adored him … he was the best.). In the 1950’s, they had two children … ‘twins.’ They lived in Manhattan until the Verrazano Bridge was built then moved to Staten Island.
Sadly, they are both gone but I think of them with great affection … they were very special.
I would love to hear from you if you are a member of this family … I know my Uncle Carmine had a large family.
Enjoyed reading your notes.
Ciao …
Emily

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Grace Post May 5, 2018 - 1:20 pm

My great grandfather had a furniture store from 3-5 James Street. The DeRosa family. Dominic, Louis. Does anyone remember that family?

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al cestari May 13, 2016 - 12:37 pm

Mariano Cestari who is my grandfather lived at 48-50 James Street around 1902. Does the building still exist? Would anyone have known of the Cestari family?

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James Cappo December 21, 2018 - 7:26 pm

No, sorry–the building at 48-50 James Street no longer exists. The tenement houses in that area were all torn down to make way for the Al Smith building project. My father, Giuseppe Coppola, lived on James Street, with his immigrant parents, at No. 46-48. They moved to Brooklyn in about 1907.

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Salvatore LaCova August 28, 2019 - 7:39 am

My Father Joseph LaCova lived with his family
Joseph LaSalle grandfather and property owner at 69 James St.
When he came home from Korea they for forced
out to make room for the Al Smith Projects.
My father is still alive today and has never gotten over
how they were treated by the city.

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Gloria Walsh Bartosik March 10, 2017 - 8:06 pm

My sisters and I attended ST. James School. I remember it well. Loved the Nuns and have nothing but good memories. They were Sisters of St. John the Baptist.I spent time at their camp in Gladstone New Jersey.

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Maria March 14, 2017 - 6:49 am

Fond memories of the church where I grew up. I was part of the youth group and had all our meetings and gatherings in the basement around the back. I lived in the Smith Houses directly across the street and in July 1988 I married the love of my life in this beautiful church. I was very sadden when it closed down after the fire in 2011.

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Ellen White Furnari March 28, 2017 - 1:01 pm

My memories of St James are sometimes in my dreams. What a childhood there. Baptized, communion, buried my father, my brother Terrence from St James church. Even made confirmation and got married there. I also went to the school there. Thank you for all the pictures. Best to all who knew the White family. If you are ever down there go to Jeremies and see Tim White. He works there! Can take the people out of LES but we will always be the heart and soul! Ellen White Furnari

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Dan March 28, 2017 - 10:41 pm

Very Cool…I think we were in the same grade with Billy Priester. Cheers!

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Dan March 28, 2017 - 5:46 pm

Great article!
St James, Power Memorial, then Pace University were ny schools..Still hanging at Chatham( in the background on James street) but travel often. Mom was at St James till their closure and in fact was coming home from morning Mass on 9/11 and nearly got knocked off her feet. My nieces and mom helped the responders when St James auditorium became a rest station months after. The Hood has changed but not as much as you’d think. Credit Chinese/Asians for owning buildings in Chinatown or they’d be as gone as The 5 Points.
Little Italy restaurants have had rents doubled from 25k to 50k a month-old and some split.
As for me, holding the fort for my kids to go to college in NYC. I told them, you really don’t want to be anywhere else!

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Chrisie May 30, 2017 - 12:12 pm

Dan, I just stumbled upon this page and saw you went to Power. Not sure what year you graduated, but my husband Thomas and his now deceased brother James Shaw graduated from there in 1978. Small world.

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Chrisie May 30, 2017 - 12:10 pm

Wow, I was trying to find where my grandfather lived when he emigrated from Bronte, in Catania, Sicily in 1921 coming in through Ellis Island, and I found out that he lived at 98 James Street. This is so wonderful to have learned. Good stuff!

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Chrisie May 30, 2017 - 12:14 pm

Oh yes, I should have mentioned, my grandfather was Giacomo Giorizzo at 98 James Street and he was an “Oven Man”. Not sure what that was but that was what was listed on his papers as occupation. If anyone knew of him or the address in 1921, I would love to hear from you.

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Robert Torregrossa July 3, 2017 - 8:48 am

my great grandfather Francisco Torregrossa listed his business, a macaroni factory at 83 James street in 1910. I found this listing in a NYC business archive. Its a real longshot but if anyone has any photos of James street at this time please let me know

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Emily August 19, 2017 - 6:42 pm

My grandparents raised their ‘8’ children at 52 James Street. The Fusaro Family. My father attended St. James School as did I in the early 1950’s. In 1954, I transferred to St. Joseph’s just around the corner from Market Streetwhete we moved. I recall a candy store next door to 52 James Street. I loved that! All those decades later, I came in contact with a former classmate of mine at St. James … she lives just 20 minutes away from me on the west coast. Lovely and warm memories. Everything was so simple back then. Eventually, everyone moved as the Alfred E. Smith buildings were built up … families that knew each other well for so many years moved on. I especially remember Sundays at my grandparents on James Street. After mass at St. James, the wonderful scents of sauce (referred to as gravy back then) simmering away. To this day, the memories of those days are in tact and those scents are so very comforting to me. Would love to hear from anyone who was at St. James or St. Joseph’s … and familiar with James and all the surrounding neighborhood streets.
Ciao 🙂

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Irene Shields September 1, 2017 - 1:37 pm

My grandmother lived at 61 James St. in 1907. She worked as a domestic worker in this boarding house. I’m guessing that this building at 61 James St. no longer exists.

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John Perry February 9, 2018 - 8:33 am

I tried save St James church did a lot of repair work on it till the cardinal shut me door Geo Zapata help me they cannot take down the church because it a landmark the Cardinal put a knife in our back I lived at 14 Monroe street my wife lived at 388 pearl st married at st James

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Joanne Rao Perrotta September 23, 2018 - 12:17 pm

My sisters & I went to St. James School & received all our sacraments at St. James Church. We lived across the street in the AES projects until 1964. Hung out on James Street by the church. Many great memories.

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Anonymous September 25, 2018 - 9:55 am

My family moved to 22 James St. when we came over from Italy.was a great street to grow up.sad to see it in shambles

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PRESTON M. May 21, 2019 - 3:28 am

22 JAMES STREET IS STILL STANDING. many many years ago i dated a girl that lived in that building.

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Angel Z October 3, 2018 - 6:26 am

I remember St James Church very fondly. My Mother Isabel was part of the Madres Christiana and work as a volunteer in the kitchen whenever they had a Saturday Night Oarty Celebration. I also remember and gave good memories of Father Gigante, (his Brother was Vincent ‘The Chin’ Gigante of the Columbia crime Family), Father Rossi and especially Father Jose I think He came from Spain. Many good memories there. I thank GOD for it.

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Linda Murray October 14, 2018 - 7:40 pm

My dad was born at 5 James St, which is no longer there. It was a cold water flat and his last name was Molinelli. His dad worked for the Gerber company. His parents were both born on the lower East side to Italian (paternal) and Czech (maternal) immigrants. His Italian grandmother also lived on James St. and he had fond memories of the neighborhood.

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Patricia Olson November 30, 2018 - 7:18 pm

My grandmother went school with Al Smith at St. James. Her parents came county Kerry Ireland Hyde. She belonged to Ancient Order of Hibernians

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James J Dooner January 2, 2019 - 10:18 pm

I was born and raised in the Al Smith projects and went to St . James School from 1961 til 1969 and I am trying to get hold of anyone else who might want to get together for a 50th anniversary of our graduation from St James in June of 1969 call me at 914 968 1835

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James J Dooner January 2, 2019 - 10:22 pm

Hoping to get together with anyone of our graduated class of 1969 to see how we turned out and have a good laugh and smile at each other.

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Nick Giarizzi March 29, 2019 - 5:44 pm

Hey Chrisie,
My name is Nick and I just came across this article and your comment after I found out that my great grandfather’s name was Giacomo Giorizzo and he came over here from Catania, Sicily as well after finding his Certificate of Naturalization today! The certificate is dated for May 14th, 1928 though! My parents and grandparents are all from Brooklyn, NY so the coincidence is kind of scary to me! At some point our last name was changed from Giorizzo to Giarizzi though so I was curious if you were still a Giorizzo? Let me know if you have any more background info. Thanks!

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Jennifer April 4, 2019 - 9:36 pm

My relatives the O’Neills lived in the neighborhood in the 1860’s some on Cherry St., some on James.

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Cheryl November 9, 2019 - 5:43 pm

My great grandfather, Vincenzo Feola, lived at 55 James St.

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Cheryl November 9, 2019 - 5:44 pm

in 1898

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Robert January 20, 2020 - 2:48 pm

My grandparents Nicola & Gerada Pica lived at #85 James street from about 1895 maybe into the teens, before they moved to Madison street until about 1925. I imagine some of them attended St. James.
Anyone recall Pica family, or Rondanina family?

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