EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (WABC) -- The final piece of the building that stood for the oldest worshipping community in New York City started to be demolished Monday.
Middle Church in the East Village was badly damaged when a six-alarm fire spread from a vacant building next door on December 5, 2020.
Originally, the plan was to rebuild the church originally built, as it seemed as though the facade and steeple could survive the blaze.
"Lots of pieces that look whole from the front are badly damaged on the back," said Reverand Dr. Jacqui Lewis. "This facade felt to us like a last stand in a place that's stood on the corner of 7th and 2nd Ave. since 1892."
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After the fire destroyed most of the sanctuary almost three years ago, many feel that the fact the facade cannot be saved is another blow. However, officials say the remaining structure of the church could not be salvaged in the interest of public safety.
As such, Monday marked a moment of simultaneous community grief and community dreaming.
"Over the past three years, church membership has grown by almost 700 members, because the faith of this community has inspired people across the globe that fierce love can rebuild what is broken. In the middle of so much global violence, the rebuilding of our sanctuary is a testimony to how communities can rise from the ashes to nurture new life," Rev. Dr. Lewis said.
The demolition also is a chance for something new, some church members say.
"It's a happy day, a sad day. A day of remembering the loss and hope for what's coming ahead in the rebuild," said Pamela Edgar. "This was a beacon of hope to have the facade standing, but now it's like a piece of shrapnel that needs to be removed... before we can heal and move forward."
The demolition is supposed to take three months, officials say.
The brass arch and another portion of the facade are supposed to be incorporated into the new building that eventually gets built. But construction is years away and will require millions of dollars in fundraising.
The Middle Church is also home to New York City's liberty bell, which remained intact at the top of the steeple after the fire.