The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava

by Don Friedman on May 3, 2016

In the summer of 1996, I first started work on the Cathedral of St. Sava, on 25th Street just west of Fifth Avenue, as a consultant to William Stivale. The initial work was a review of the condition of the roof trusses, which were exposed within the sanctuary space, but the project later encompassed exterior restoration. More recently, we worked on repairs to the roof of the adjacent parish house. The church was designed by Richard Upjohn and constructed in the 1850s as an uptown chapel for Trinity Church. The conversion to Serbian Orthodox use kept the beauty of the delicate interiors and the brownstone exterior intact. The church was on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being designated as a New York City landmark.

The cathedral burned on Sunday. Fortunately, no one was killed and there were only minor injuries, but the building is a complete loss.

In any profession, you win some and you lose some. In historic preservation work, “losing some” usually means exactly that: a building is lost, and whatever historic and cultural values it had for people and society are gone. Usually we see this coming. Sometimes investigation shows us that a building is too badly damaged to be repaired; sometimes the values it embodies are not enough to protect it against new development of the site, or the inertia of disuse. It is especially hard to suddenly lose a building like St. Sava that is both loved and physically functioning. I do not expect to outlive 150-year-old buildings.

It was an honor to work on St. Sava, and especially so in the company of professionals like Marie Ennis, Bill Stivale, John Moller, and Derek Trelstad.

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