Brownsville

Assemblymember Latrice Walker calls for a halt to Our Lady of Loreto demolition plan

Ocean Hill-Brownsville church should be turned into a landmarked cultural center, she says

August 16, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This is Our Lady of Loreto, which Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens plans to demolish. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Stop the wrecking ball.

On Tuesday, state Assemblymember Latrice Walker called on Brooklyn’s Catholic hierarchy to withdraw its demolition application for a historic church in the Ocean Hill section of Brownsville, Our Lady of Loreto.

At a press conference outside the shuttered century-old church at 124 Sackman St., Walker (D-Brownsville) urged Catholic officials to work with the community and turn Our Lady of Loreto into a much-needed cultural center.

“Partner with our neighborhood,” Walker said.

“Let’s invest in the people in this community as well as its infrastructure.”

Last week, Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens CEO Msgr. Alfred LoPinto announced “there is no viable use for the structure” and it will be torn down “to provide housing for families in need.”

A subsidiary of the charitable group has leased the empty church for a 53-year-term with an option to extend the lease to 99 years, city Finance Department records indicate.

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In June, the city Buildings Department approved an application for Our Lady of Loreto’s demolition.

Walker stood shoulder-to-shoulder at Tuesday’s press conference with community leaders, heads of arts organizations and preservation-minded Italian-Americans — who all support the emergency designation of Our Lady of Loreto as a city landmark and its adaptive reuse as a cultural center.  

“You wouldn’t tear down the Vatican in Italy, would you?” Miriam Robertson, executive director of Brownsville Heritage House, said at the press conference.

She urged people to sign a petition that can be found on website Change.org urging the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate Our Lady of Loreto as a landmark.

When it was built a century ago, the church was a symbol of religious freedom to Italian immigrants. At that time, they were an underprivileged minority in America, often despised by other Catholic immigrant groups.

Les Ford, president of Nia Theatrical Production Company, said at the press conference that he’d sent the Bishop of Brooklyn, the Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, a letter asking that the church be spared.

The bishop responded with a letter calling Our Lady of Loreto “a source of blight for the Brownsville community.”

Gesturing at the neoclassical Roman Renaissance-style cast-stone church behind him, Ford said, “This church is not a blight. This church is beautiful.”

Saved from the wrecking ball in 2010

Before the press conference, Ocean Hill-Brownsville resident and Our Lady of Loreto parishioner Josephine Mayo told the Brooklyn Eagle, “It’s important to have a cultural center for the kids in the neighborhood.

“It’s for the future of the neighborhood and the people.”

Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens spared Our Lady of Loreto once before — in 2010.

Back then, in response to public outcry, the church charitable organization agreed to tear down the church rectory — but not the church itself — in order to build 64 units of low-income housing.

Our Lady of Loreto was left standing, though stripped of its altar, which is now in use by a church on Long Island. The stained-glass windows have disappeared as well.

 

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