Exasperated locals decry Landmarks’ omission of Angel Guardian Home convent

August 11, 2020 Editorial Staff
Exasperated locals decry Landmarks’ omission of Angel Guardian Home convent
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From Brooklyneagle.com

Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Angel Guardian Home may soon have its very own guardian angel; the adjacent convent building, however, doesn’t appear to be as lucky.

Only the main structure has been recommended by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for designation as a landmark, which would protect it from demolition or out-of-character alterations, though numerous members of the public who spoke at today’s public hearing on the issue bemoaned the fact that so far the commission has overlooked the smaller building, which is likely to be demolished unless it receives the same protections.

In 2018, the Sisters of Mercy received $37.5 million from developer Scott Barone for the property, which occupies the square block bounded by 12th and 13th avenues, and 63rd and 64th streets in Dyker Heights. Barone subsequently sold the 13th Avenue side of the property to the city’s School Construction Authority, which will be building a school on the site, and the central portion of the property to another developer who plans to erect condos there.

While the remainder of the campus has been leveled, the late 19th century main building and the smaller, early 20th century convent building have so far been preserved. Barone’s originally said he wanted to utilize the main building to develop an assisted living facility; however, it now appears that that portion of the property has been sold as well, to Boro Park-based Ger Talmud Torah Imrei Emes, for use as a school.

The “carve-out” of the convent from the portion of the site being considered for landmarking “is unacceptable,” wrote Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, Community Board 10 Chair Lori Willis, Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone and Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff in a July 23 letter to LPC Chairperson Sarah Carroll. “There is simply no architectural or aesthetic basis for this omission, as this building is designed in the same high style as the main orphanage building. LPC lists the meritorious features of the main building as: Ornate, carved limestone door surrounds, corner quoins, arched windows, copper cornices, [and] mansard roofs All of these features appear on the convent building …. Unlike the main building, the convent building has four designed facades” which, they added, “speaks directly to the architect’s intended prominence of this building, individually and as a part of this complex.”

That perspective was shared by numerous speakers at this morning’s hearing, including several who had worked or lived at the home. For Sylvia Rivera, who lived there from infancy till she was 18 months old, the site represents “a safe haven I have always treasured.” Reminiscing about the “sprawling grounds, architectural detail and craftsmanship of the man building and convent,” she added the commission, “Please let it be named a historic landmark.”

Josephine Beckmann, CB 10 district manager, expressed “disappointment” that the convent building was not being considered for designation by LPC, as did Fran Vella-Marrone, the president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association.

“We’re very happy you are considering the main building,” Vella-Marrone told the commission. “But I think [the convent building] should be considered as part of the package. It has architectural value. It has historical value. The second building will be demolished if it’s not [landmarked].”

Carl Esposito, who described himself as a “lifelong resident of 64th Street,” described his deep ties to the property, and implored commission members to landmark both structures. “These are parts of Brooklyn you don’t see anymore,” he told them.

Commission members were scolded over the omission of the convent building from potential landmark designation by Jeffrey Kroessler, chair of the Preservation Committee of the City Club of New York. “I find it puzzling that LPC has carved out the convent building,” he told LPC. “I se no reason historically, architecturally or culturally why the other building doesn’t merit designation.”

That, Kroessler went on, leads him to believe that either the commission doesn’t view the building as “worthy of designation,” or else, not including the building “is part of a compromise with developers and elected officials.

“Either one,” he continued, “doesn’t speak well for the commission.”

The Angel Guardian home was designed by prominent ecclesiastical architect George Streeton in the Renaissance Revival/Beaux Arts style. Its designation would make it the first landmark in Dyker Heights, whose development began in the same era as the Sisters of Mercy began buying up property in the area for the home.

Over the years, the building was used as an orphanage and a home for unwed mothers. In addition, a portion of the property was also utilized as a senior center, whose attendees protested their eviction in the wake of the property’s sale.

Local activists worked hard to save the entire site, founding an organization dubbed Guardians of the Guardian, but demolition of a large portion of it took place before LPC stepped in.

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