Judge extends temporary restraining order halting demolition of Our Lady of Loreto

May 9, 2017 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This is Our Lady of Loreto, which Catholic officials have targeted for demolition. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
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Don’t touch that historic church.

At a hearing Tuesday in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn, Justice Ellen Spodek extended a temporary restraining order that halts the demolition of Our Lady of Loreto in the Ocean Hill section of Brownsville.

Justice Spodek will be issuing a decision in the next couple weeks concerning the suit, which was filed in late April by former parishioner Jillian Mulvihill. It seeks a permanent stop to the demolition of the vacant neoclassical Roman Renaissance-style church at 126 Sackman St. by Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corp. The city Buildings Department had issued demolition permits for the property in March.

The Catholic charity intends to construct 40 units of low-income housing and a “community space” on the site of the demolished church, Richard Coppola, a partner at Cullen and Dykman LLP, said during the hearing.

Coppola represents Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corp. (POP) and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which is also a defendant in the suit.

The Brownsville Cultural Coalition, of which Mulvihill is a member, has been campaigning to have Our Lady of Loreto designated as a city landmark and turned into a neighborhood cultural center. The group has the support of elected officials including state Assemblymember Latrice Walker (D-Brownsville) and state Sen. Tony Avella, a Democrat from Queens with a track record of supporting preservationist causes.  

The Catholic charitable organization holds a 53-year lease on the church building with an option to extend the lease term to 99 years.

In 2013, POP called for a request for proposals (RFP) for the adaptive reuse of the church, and received only one response.

Chris Slowik, a partner at Klein Slowik PLLC who is representing Mulvihill, asserted during the hearing that the Catholic charity “did not engage in good faith” with the RFP respondent. He was deemed ineligible because he wanted to use the church building for religious purposes.

Coppola, the Catholic charity’s attorney, said during the hearing that POP did make a good-faith effort in handling the request for proposals process.

A rectory was demolished, and low-income housing was built  

Both the cast-stone church and a rectory that stood next to it were deemed eligible for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

In 2010, the Catholic charity, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and three government housing agencies signed a letter of resolution stipulating that the church building would be spared from demolition and POP would be allowed to tear down the rectory and build low-income housing adjacent to the church building.

A 64-unit low-income apartment complex called Catholic Charities Monsignor Anthony J. Barretta Apartments was constructed.

‘A living piece of history’

After the hearing ended, Mulvihill told the Brooklyn Eagle, “I have found more inspiration in state Supreme Court than I have in any Catholic church since Loreto closed. Loreto was the only Catholic church I found inspiring.

“I want us to leave Loreto to the next generation of immigrants to be their cultural center and source of inspiration,” she added.

Our Lady of Loreto was built as a place of refuge for Italians when they were a downtrodden immigrant group in New York City. The architect who designed the church, Adriano Armezzani, was an Italian immigrant. The church’s builder, sculptor, interior decorator and painter were also Italian immigrants.

Songwriter Harry Warren, who wrote “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and the Dean Martin hit “That’s Amore,” was a choirboy at Our Lady of Loreto. Warren’s real name was Salvatore Guaragna.

“The church is irreplaceable. It’s a living piece of history,” Mulvihill’s lawyer, Slowik, told the Eagle after the hearing ended.

“It’s a testimony to the spirit of Italian immigrants who built it with their own hands,” he said. “I’m moved that the current residents of the neighborhood have embraced its history and want to use it as a place for the community to come together.”


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