Support mounts for landmarking Angel Guardian, second rally planned

March 7, 2018 Meaghan McGoldrick
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This story has been updated to include comment and clarification from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, as well as an updated rally date.

As predicted, a local panel has voted in unanimous support of a motion it hopes might save, at the very least, the skeleton of the storied Angel Guardian Home in Dyker Heights.

After supporters of the longstanding complex rallied outside its still-to-be-shuttered Narrows Senior Center on February 2, Community Board 10 on Monday, February 26 voted to support a motion made by the panel’s Zoning and Land Use Committee to request that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) expedite the calendaring of an application to designate the Angel Guardian Home an individual landmark.

“This would be the first and only landmark of its kind in Dyker Heights,” said Zoning and Land Use Committee Chair Brian Kaszuba, adding that the application – submitted by the “Guardians of the Guardian,” a group of neighbors that have been fighting to save the site since news of its impending sale first broke – has the full support of the Historic Districts Council (HDC).

“The Angel Guardian Home is an extensive complex that stretches a full city block that was built in 1899,” Kaszuba explained. “All four original buildings on the site are completely intact since the date of construction due to the very high quality of materials such as red brick, limestone and copper.”

HDC and CB10 both believe the complex meets the standards for landmark status.

The Angel Guardian Home – a 140,000-square-foot Dyker Heights institution at 6301 12th Avenue that, since the early 1900s, has taken in countless orphans, becoming a formal adoption agency in the 1970s – was reportedly sold at the end of last year to a still unnamed buyer.

This move, despite repeated pleas from local residents and community stakeholders to consider senior housing, a school or some other combination of the two that would benefit the neighborhood at the massive, block-long site, hints at trouble, supporters say.

“Should Landmarks grant such designation, the owners would not be able to make any changes without Landmarks’ permission,” Kaszuba said, noting also that, while the buyers’ intentions are still unclear (as is, he said, if there even is a buyer as there are still no records of a sale), without landmark designation, “as of right, they could tear down the structure and build row houses on both blocks.”

Expediting the calendaring of the application to at least set a date for review would “stop the clock,” Kaszuba said, on any construction at the hands of the new owners pending LPC’s final decision.

Still, he stressed, the committee hopes LPC will consider the request based solely on the site’s deep-rooted history.

To put added pressure on LPC, on March 1, a bevy of local elected officials — Councilmembers Justin Brannan and Carlos Menchaca, State Senators Marty Golden and Simcha Felder, Assemblymember Peter Abbate and Public Advocate Letitia James — also sent a letter of their own requesting a hasty review of the application addressed to LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan.

“We are very concerned over the future ownership of the site, which, at this time, is not known,” wrote the pols. “We fear that the change in ownership is a direct threat to losing this complex, which has been an important part of our neighborhood for over a century.”

Letters requesting help have also reportedly been sent to the Vatican.

The site was built in 1902, according to city records, and served as an extension of the Convent of Mercy, housing hundreds of orphans and eventually acting as a formal adoption agency until the 1970s.

In 2003, the Angel Guardian Home merged with St. Mary’s of the Angels Home to form the MercyFirst network of agencies. Up until late last year, the campus – which spans the entire block – housed the offices for the Sisters’ foster care program as well as a senior center, which had initially been told to close for good the day of the rally but which got a reprieve afterwards to its original end-of-lease month of June.

However, according to Brooklyn Daily, a Catholic Charities rep subsequently told center-goers their lease would end on May 15 – nearly three weeks early, despite earlier promises. Therefore, supporters will meet again outside the senior center, 1230 63rd Street, on Friday, March 23 at 1 p.m. to protest its closure for a second time.

According to Kaszuba, all hope is certainly not lost.

“In the past year alone, LPC did designate two other locations despite already being sold or in the process of being sold,” he said, “so there is no reason to believe that the Angel Guardian Home does not have a chance.” This week, a third was added, as Sunset Park’s Dr. Maurice T. Lewis house was landmarked on Tuesday, March 6.

According to LPC, the Angel Guardian Home is already on its radar.

“When LPC received a request, not an application, to evaluate the Angel Guardian Home earlier this year, we assessed the site and determined that the main building may merit consideration as a potential landmark, but further study was needed,” said a spokesperson, referring to the Request for Evaluation (RFE) submitted by the Guardians on January 3. “Since then, LPC has received more letters regarding this property and the agency is commencing the additional research.”

Upon evaluation of the site, LPC determined that further study is needed to fully understand the development history and integrity of the building.

Frank Grassi, a life-long Dyker Heights resident and active member of the Guardians, was one of many to speak to its saving — and its structure — at the CB 10 meeting.

“Every time another building falls, another shopkeeper closes, another bowling alley or movie theater is replaced, a part of our community’s past is also chipped away at and lost forever,” he said, adding that, “The brick, the mortar, the limestone and the copper – the loving workmanship which went into building the Angel Guardian Home – is the story of our community and the immigrant families who build, honored and sacrificed for it.”

Fellow “Guardian” Carl Esposito, who lives across the street, said that losing Angel Guardian Home would be “like Ebbets Field is going again. It’s just a part of Brooklyn that you’re not gonna see anymore.”

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