Brownsville

Historic Brownsville church site sits vacant as senior housing moves slowly

Activists failed to stop the demolition of Our Lady of Loreto — and developers don't expect to break ground until 2020.

October 22, 2019 Lore Croghan
Our Lady of Loreto, seen here in an April 2016 photo, was torn down two years ago. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

The Brownsville lot where a Catholic church built by immigrants stood for a century is still vacant, two years after the historic house of worship was torn down.

Weeds are growing on the rubble-and-trash-strewn site of Our Lady of Loreto at 126 Sackman St., which activists wanted to landmark and turn into a community cultural center.

Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corp., which controls the site through a long-term lease, won’t break ground on seniors housing there until next year.

“Given the many different parties involved in an affordable housing project as well as the limited resources dedicated to such purposes, it takes time to bring everything together (environmental studies, financing, coordination with city and state agencies, architectural and design),” spokesperson Lucy Garrido-Mota told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We anticipate breaking ground in early 2020.”

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The charitable entity plans to construct a building with 135 units, all of them for seniors and all of them affordable, Garrido-Mota said. Sixty percent of the units will be set aside for seniors who need supportive services. The building will also have two community rooms.

This Brownsville site stands silent two years after the church on it, Our Lady of Loreto, was demolished. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
This Brownsville site stands silent two years after the church on it, Our Lady of Loreto, was demolished. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

The October 2017 demolition of Our Lady of Loreto, which was eligible for inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, was a bitter defeat for the Brownsville Cultural Coalition.

The group’s members included community leaders, the heads of arts groups and former parishioners. They enlisted State Assemblymember Latrice Walker and State Sen. Tony Avella to serve as their advocates to push for landmarking, but to no avail.

The apartment building that will replace Our Lady of Loreto will be eight stories tall and designed by RKTB Architects, city Buildings Department records indicate. That architectural firm designed a four-story, 64-unit low-income apartment complex the Catholic charity constructed several years ago at 2365 Pacific St., next to the church site.


Our Lady of Loreto’s rectory was located on the Pacific Street lot. In 2010, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation wrote a letter of resolution allowing Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corp. to tear down the rectory but mandating the preservation of the church.

Brownsville Cultural Coalition member Jillian Mulvihill sued Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corp. in 2017 to stop the church demolition. Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Ellen Spodek ruled against Mulvihill.

This statue and war memorial stood outside Our Lady of Loreto. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
This statue and war memorial stood outside Our Lady of Loreto. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

The letter of resolution obligated the Catholic charity to try to preserve the church and turn it into housing or a community facility if funding became available. But “it is undisputed that funding did not become available to restore the Our Lady of Loreto Church building,” Spodek wrote in her decision about the case.

The neoclassical Roman Renaissance church in Brownsville’s Ocean Hill section was built as a haven from prejudice for early 20th-century Italian immigrants. If they tried to attend a New York City Catholic church where parishioners of other ethnicities were predominant, they were often told to sit in the basement or the back pews.

Our Lady of Loreto’s architect was Italian immigrant Adriano Armezzani. Its builder, sculptor, interior decorator and painter were Italian immigrants.

Oscar-winning songwriter Harry Warren — whose real name was Salvatore Guaragna — was a choirboy at Our Lady of Loreto, researcher Mario Toglia previously told the Eagle.

Warren wrote “I Only Have Eyes for You” and Etta James’ signature hit “At Last,” which Beyoncé sang for Barack and Michelle Obama for their first dance as President and First Lady at one of the 2009 Inaugural Balls.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.


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