A reprieve for Our Lady of Loreto?

Eye On Real Estate: Demolition of historic Ocean Hill-Brownsville church had been announced

October 5, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This is Our Lady of Loreto, a shuttered historic church in the Ocean Hill section of Brownsville. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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Our Lady of Loreto has been waiting for the wrecking ball.

But for the moment, at least, she can breathe a little easier.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn’s application for a permit to demolish the century-old church in the Ocean Hill section of Brownsville has been closed.

A staffer in the city Buildings Department’s Brooklyn office shared this piece of news with Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council.

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“There is no active plan to demolish the church building that is pending before any city agency,” Bankoff told Eye on Real Estate.

In June, the diocese had filed an application to tear down the neoclassical Roman Renaissance-style cast-stone church at 124 Sackman St. In August, Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens announced that Our Lady of Loreto would be demolished and “housing for families in need” constructed in its place.

Faced with the demolition threat, Brownsville community leaders, arts groups and Italian-Americans seeking to honor their immigrant heritage have been campaigning to get the church building designated as a city landmark and adaptively reused as a community cultural center.

They have the support of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, state Assemblymember Latrice Walker (D-Brownsville) and state Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D-Brownsville, Crown Heights and Sunset Park).

Bankoff said he finds the halt to the demolition permitting process “very reassuring” — because when a property owner has a demolition permit in hand, “the city Landmarks Preservation Commission is effectively trumped.”  

Buildings that are designated as city landmarks cannot be torn down without the commission’s permission.  

Our Lady of Loreto was designed and built by Italian immigrants in an era when they were discriminated against by Irish and German Catholics. It has been closed since 2009.

It’s an excellent candidate for designation in a neighborhood that deserves more landmarks, Bankoff said: “Brownsville has a great history that’s not officially recognized. Without a sense of the past, how can you have a future?”

A Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens subsidiary called Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corp. (POP) already constructed 64 units of low-income housing on land surrounding the church building. Our Lady of Loreto’s rectory was torn down to make room for those apartments.

A resolution signed in 2010 by government housing agencies and POP stipulated that the Catholic organization would not tear down the church building because it was being allowed to demolish the rectory. The entire sacred site had been deemed eligible for inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

So what happens next to Our Lady of Loreto? Three people who care deeply about Brownsville have shared their thoughts on this issue.

By the way, the photos included in this story are meant to provide some visual context for readers who are unfamiliar with the neighborhood around Our Lady of Loreto.

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