Analysis: Armenian Church Comes Down—Its Fate Never in Doubt

Most of the former St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church was gone by mid-day Thursday. (Photograph by Ted Gray.)

Most of the former St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church was gone by mid-day Thursday. (Photograph by Ted Gray.)

A view of Haverhill City Hall not previously possible. (Frank Komola photograph for WHAV News.)

A view of Haverhill City Hall not previously possible. (Frank Komola photograph for WHAV News.)

There was never any doubt St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church, across from Haverhill City Hall, was coming down.

As WHAV was the first to report last October, the demolition had already begun with the removal of architectural elements. Final razing of the building was simply hung up on paperwork—not protests against its destruction. Potential buyers had 15 years to place bids and few did.

One was a plan to locate a Burger King at the intersection, formally known as Atwood Square. It failed only because it required permission from the Haverhill Zoning Board of Appeals to construct a drive-up. The plan to construct a Domino’s Pizza franchise faced no such restrictions. While there had been talk of creating historic district regulations after Burger King came forward, they never materialized. Trying not to hamper the Armenian church’s efforts to raise enough money to build a new church in Ward Hill, city councilors voted 6 to 2 a year ago against drafting an ordinance to give the Haverhill Historic Commission authority to both delay demolition of properties in the Main Street Historic District and regulate designs of new buildings.

Councilor William J. Macek called the quick plan to halt demolition of the church an 11th hour attempt. “I’m not going to roadblock the church or make it any harder,” he said.

A vintage postcard displays the church with the the former Haverhill High School at rear.

A vintage postcard displays the church with the the former Haverhill High School at rear.

Talking with WHAV last year, Haverhill Building Inspector Richard Osborne was clear. Demolition would be completed once all department heads sign off on a site plan submitted by Oak Consulting Group, Newburyport. The process involved addressing environmental issues, possibly including safe removal of any asbestos and lead paint.

The new developer promised city councilors it would voluntarily work with officials to construct an attractive strip shopping area. Osborne told WHAV then Domino’s has “Most definitely been cooperative.” Besides the pizza shop, to be relocated from 57 Dudley St., up to three small shops are planned.

The church building was a descendant of Haverhill’s founding church. The First Parish Unitarian, which over the centuries had several buildings of worship around the city common and downtown beginning in 1645, vacated the property in 1926 when it began meeting within the Universalist Church on Kenoza Avenue. The two congregations merged in 1950, forming the Universalist-Unitarian Church of Haverhill. The church once faced the common—now known as GAR Park—and was rotated to face Main Street.

2 thoughts on “Analysis: Armenian Church Comes Down—Its Fate Never in Doubt

  1. Our values on display. Not memory nor aesthetics. But cheap, fast food, low wages.

    “We die for cheap things”—Leonard Cohen. Steer Your Way.

  2. It will be interesting to see the design for the “attractive strip shopping area.” An attractive strip mall sounds like an oxymoron to me.