Salam Lutheran Church’s dismantling has begun

April 15, 2011 Helen Klein
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With its windows gone and its roof being dismantled, the forlornfaçade of the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church casts a shadow overOvington Avenue.

Purchased earlier this year by a developer, Xi Wu, the sanctuary- which is located between Third and Fourth avenues – is the latestBay Ridge church to undergo demolition.

Today, a scrawled question, Why? defaces the front of theravaged church, which is modeled on the cathedral in Copenhagen,and which was sold to Wu earlier this year by the New York LutheranSynod for $1.5 million.

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We’ve been through this a million times, said Kathy Walker,the co-chairperson of the Committee to Save the Bay Ridge UnitedMethodist Church. That venerable sanctuary, fondly known as theGreen Church, stood at the corner of Fourth and Ovington Avenuesfor over a century until it was demolished in 2008 to make way forcondos that were never built; a school is now under constructionthere.

Wu plans to construct a five-story, 25-unit apartment buildingin place of the venerable house of worship, which opened in 1942 asthe Salem Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, and was transferredto the Arabic Lutheran flock in 1995 because the Danishcongregation had dwindled dramatically.

It’s unfortunate seeing these beautiful old buildings beingdemolished, Walker stressed, noting that adaptive reuse was aviable way of preserving old religious buildings, even whencongregations had shrunk to the point that they could no longerafford to remain in their homes. You can’t blame the developers toa certain point, but I wish they would try to save thebuildings.

Susan Pulaski, a member of Community Board 10, agreed. It’s sohard to lose two churches on one block, she said. it’s not right.These places shouldn’t be torn down. They can do something withthem. If you go to Brooklyn Heights, a lot of churches have beenturned into co-ops.

The issue is partly aesthetics, partly quality-of-life, Walkersaid. When more apartment buildings go up, she remarked, there’smore of everything – more noise, more congestion, more cars, morechaos. If we wanted to live in Manhattan, we would live inManhattan.

Residents of the block, who are now undergoing the dismantlingof a church for the second time, are sad and surprised, saidAntoine Khaled, who manages a building on the block. He recalledthat, when he bought the building 30 years ago, there were threechurches right there. Now, two are gone. I never thought thatwould happen.

Perhaps no one is sadder than Khader El-Yateem, the pastor ofSalam Arabic Lutheran Church, who said he avoids driving down theblock now.

It’s heartbreaking to see the church being destroyed, saidEl-Yateem. Unfortunately, the neighborhood is changing. We have toconsolidate so we can focus on ministry instead of maintainingbuildings.

The removal of windows has occurred even though Wu doesn’t yethave approved plans. His most recent submission to the city’sDepartment of Buildings (DOB) was disapproved on March 3.

He doesn’t need a demolition permit to remove windows or ceilingtiles, said Josephine Beckmann, CB 10’s district manager, whochecked with DOB about what the developer was allowed to do.

Besides the Green Church and the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church,other Bay Ridge churches that have closed over the last few yearsinclude the Fort Hamilton Presbyterian Church, which shut its doorsin 2009, and the Salem Lutheran Church, which was sold last year toSt. Matthew’s Churches, a largely mail order ministry headquarteredin Tulsa, Oklahoma.

By press time, Wu had not returned repeated calls forcomment.


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