By Tim Harfmann
Construction workers are erecting a new, eight-story building. When they’re done, a historic wall will be covered forever.
It’s the facade that remains of the Catholic chapel that was part of the St. Joseph Orphan Asylum, which opened its doors to children in 1898.
Over the years, many changes occurred at the site in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but the facade stayed. Now the Spence School, a private institution for girls, is building a multi-million-dollar athletic facility.
“Having a school will make this a livelier block,” said Father Boniface Ramsey. “I see the value of that.”
He is the pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, which is located blocks from the site. Father Ramsey fears the athletic building would block the orphanage wall entirely.
“As long as the Spence School building is there, the facade is going to be obscured,” he said.
According to a Spence School official, a plaque will be installed to honor the orphanage, plus there’s going to be a display inside the athletic building’s entrance.
Father Ramsey had other ideas.
“I asked whether the Spence School could put up a window so you could look at the facade from inside the school,” he said. “Did they have to build a school so close to the facade?”
Though the new center won’t damage the wall, Father Ramsey stressed the history of the orphanage which was part of his parish. St. Joseph Church still keeps baptismal records of the orphans dating back to the 1800s.
“Parents are listed where they know the names of the parents, and where they came from is also listed. Many, many from Germany,” Father Ramsey said.
Residents who live around the construction site had mixed reactions. Matthew Haines approved the plans the school has in place.
“This facility was part of that history and to remember that history, in some way, is a very nice thing,” Haines said.
George Prado, another neighbor, said more needs to be done.
“That’s not enough,” he said. “This is a really important structure. The work they did was incredible.”
Father Ramsey said he wished passersby could see the facade forever, but he’s just glad the school will acknowledge the history of the orphanage.