P’ville’s St. John’s Episcopal Seeks Renovation, Historic Status

St. John's Episcopal Church parishioner Matthew Ruvo has compiled a list of events that could make the 100-year-old church a historic landmark.
St. John’s Episcopal Church parishioner Matthew Ruvo has compiled a list of events that could help qualify the 100-year-old church as a historic landmark.

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Pleasantville is looking to make much-needed renovations to its historic century-old building on Sunnyside Avenue, a structure with plenty of history.

Church leadership has worked with consultants over the past three years to devise a renovation plan. The church’s built-in rooftop gutters require an overhaul, as do the underground drainage systems. Parts of the church’s stone exterior also need refurbishment.

On Sunday, the parish held an event at the church to raise awareness of the plans, featuring music by area youths and refreshments. Parishioner Peter Russell said the church serves multiple uses for the community.

“We think of it as a community resource,” he said. “Like many of us who have homes, we know that you have to do repairs and maintenance every year. But when you have a 100-year-old structure, you can be sure that periodically you have to do a major job. And this is our chance to do a major job.”

Russell said the church is always looking for adaptive uses and new mission opportunities. Several years ago, it opened a community garden started by a young parishioner, which produces food for area charities. Last year the congregation opened a thrift shop now run out of the previously vacant church basement.

A building restoration plan has been completed and the church is looking to raise funds through donations. Russell said the roof has been patched over the years but more than $200,000 is needed for the work.

“The slate roof is 100 years old and it’s in great shape, but the valleys and the gutters are a mess,” he said.

The church may have another way to obtain aid. St. John’s, with its oldest wing built in 1914, could be eligible to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. Its gothic revival architecture and original stained glass windows make it a good candidate for historic status, said parishioner Matthew Ruvo.

Ruvo has extensively studied the church’s history and has compiled a list of events. The parish hall, built in 1928, was designed by architect Oscar Vatet, whose work includes several buildings in the Midwest that appear on the National Register.

St. John’s was the location of the first wedding involving a member of a European royal family on American soil. On Dec. 1, 1928, Estelle Romaine Manville, daughter of wealthy industrialist and Pleasantville resident H. Edward Manville, married Count Folke Bernadotte of Wisborg, a nephew of King Gustaf V of Sweden.

The $1.5 million wedding made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic and was covered extensively in The New York Times. Reports stated 2,000 people lined the route between the church and the estate. Ruvo said that the wedding seems to make it a slam dunk for St. John’s to receive historic status.

“Folke Bernadotte was not only the nephew of the king of Sweden, but he was also the head of the Swedish Red Cross,” Ruvo said. “He negotiated the release of 31,000 prisoners in World War II from Nazi Germany. He was assassinated, unfortunately, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 1947.”

Two of Bernadotte’s sons passed away at young ages, and one of the church’s nine stained glass windows was donated by the family in their remembrance. The glass window bears the children’s names and the family insignia.

Windows bear the name of other prominent Pleasantville families, most notably the Choates.

“The Choates had the sanitarium where Pace University is,” Ruvo said. “As a matter of fact, Horace Greeley’s daughter was married at the first St. John’s church down the street, where the Pleasantville Community Synagogue is. After he ran for president, he (Greeley) sort of lost his mind and was transferred to the sanitarium where he passed away.”

The large pink building still stands in the center of the Pace campus, relatively untouched from when the Choates owned it.

Ruvo said he’s awaiting a visit from state historians.

“I put in the 35-page application, and the state got it and said splendid building, and they’ll be coming around in February or March.”

Donations can be made to the St. John’s Building Restoration Fund, 8 Sunnyside Ave., Pleasantville, N.Y. 10570.