Where Is St. John's?: How Place Names Live On in the West Village
Why was a former railroad freight terminal named for a church?
What's odder still is that the terminal was named for a church that had been demolished about 20 years before the terminal was built. And the location of the terminal and the church are not even particularly close.
The connection is the railroad.
St. John's Church was built by Trinity Church in 1807 on Varick Street, a couple of blocks south of Canal. It and the private park it faced (also called St. John's) became the center of a fashionable neighborhood.But in 1867, Trinity sold St. John's Park to the Hudson River Railroad Company. Suddenly, the beautiful church, designed by the architect of City Hall with the 214-foot steeple and the Corinthian columns, was facing a rail yard. People left the neighborhood, the church languished and Trinity saw a pile of money where St. John's Chapel stood. Plans were made to demolish the old church. It took about two decades and a lot of fighting but in 1918 Varick Street was widened and the church was demolished. The preservationists had lost.
The name didn't disappear, however. The rail yard took St. John's name with it when the Holland Tunnel was built and space was needed for car traffic. New York Central built its new terminal at Washington and Houston at the terminus of the new High Line. The railroad long gone, at this point the name St. John's Center seems to be barely hanging on to the building that straddles Houston Street.
And the St. John's Park name has been reborn, now identifying a public space with Holland Tunnel traffic swirling around it.