Supporters of both the Angel Guardian Home and its sister senior center rallied for the second time on Friday, March 23 to call for its preservation.
Members of the Narrows Senior Center – the last remaining lease-holder within the storied 140,000-square-foot, block-long Angel Guardian Home – as well as local politicians, stakeholders and the Guardians of the Guardian (a grassroots group of neighbors fighting for the landmarking of now both Angel Guardian and St. Rosalia Church) are putting pressure on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to expedite the calendaring of a Request for Evaluation (RFE) that they hope will lead to the designation of Angel Guardian as an individual landmark.
The home, located at 6301 12th Avenue, was sold at the end of last year by its owners, the Sisters of Mercy, to a still-mysterious buyer.
This move, despite repeated pleas from local residents and community stakeholders to consider senior housing, a school or some combination of the two that would benefit the neighborhood at the massive site, hints at trouble, supporters say.
“We don’t know what they’re going to put there, but we do know that you’re going to be thrown out,” said Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association and active member of the Guardians. “We’re calling, once again, on the powers-that-be to make this a senior village and to keep your senior center here, and we’re also calling upon the Landmarks Commission to make this a landmark.”
The site, Vella-Marrone said, “has served the community culturally and historically,” and its architecture is “unmatched.”
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, operated by Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, was once safe until June.
However, as dust settled from the property’s hush-hush sale in September, the Sisters issued the center written notice that it would have to vacate the property, instead, by February 2.
This is the second time the group, led by organizer Pauline Castagna, has made a public call-to-action post-threat of eviction.
On that fateful February day, supporters rallied for a reprieve, which they received just hours after the protest. However, despite word from the Sisters that the center would have until June (its original end-of-lease date prior to the sale), its time in Dyker is now set to end on May 15, a deadline after which the group – many of whom refer to the Narrows as a “home away from home” – will see their center relocated to the Catholic Charities Stedman/Minkin Senior Residences near Maimonides Medical Center.
Despite the back-up plan, center-goers are less than thrilled with the impending second-coming of the center, many of them going as far as to say that, no matter the Narrows’ fate, they will not make the at least 10-block, two-avenue move.
“There’s no parking,” residents shouted. “It’s a cellar. It’s crowded. This is our home.”
That feeling of comfort is one State Senator Marty Golden – the only elected official in attendance at the group’s second rally – drove home.
“The only reason you should be leaving is for temporary construction,” the pol said. “You should be able to return here and have your senior center, not be shipped down to 53rd Street.
“We’ve got to find out where they’re going with this and, hopefully, they’re going where we want them to,” Golden continued, “but, frankly, if they were, I think they would’ve sat down with us already and we would’ve had that discussion.”
Until then, he urged his listeners to keep the pressure up.
“We want to make sure that we keep this building,” he said, calling on the continued support (and attendance) of his colleagues in government. “We cannot let this building not be landmarked.”
Letters, so far, have been sent to LPC, the Sisters of Mercy and even the Vatican – pressure Vella-Marrone urged supporters to continue to put on the parties in charge.
“There are no other landmarks in Dyker Heights,” she said. “We have to keep the pressure up. We have to keep going.”
Also in attendance at the rally were representatives for Assemblymember Peter Abbate, Congressmember Dan Donovan and Councilmember Justin Brannan. State Senate hopeful Ross Barkan was also on hand.
At the rally’s end, Castagna collected signs and offered some parting words: “See you all next month.”
“LPC is currently evaluating this site,” according to agency Spokesperson Zodet Negron, when asked to comment on the status of the RFE. “Earlier this year, LPC determined that the main building of the Angel Guardian Home may merit consideration as a potential landmark, but further study was needed. We are doing additional research to understand the development history and to evaluate the significance and integrity of the buildings on the site.”
The Narrows Senior Center is located at 1230 63rd Street.