Supporters of Angel Guardian rally for third time, pol hints at “negotiations”

Third time’s a charm, they hope.

Supporters of both the Angel Guardian Home and its sister senior center rallied for a third time on Friday, April 20 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 continuing to put 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 have now long said.

This time around, however, State Senator Marty Golden – the only elected official in attendance for the second rally in a row – had some (semi-)hopeful words for protesters.

“Right now I do believe that there is a window of opportunity,” the pol said, “and that window is going to be discussed by the elected officials, the builder, the Sisters of Mercy and Catholic Charities.

“Our goal, obviously, is to save the center and to secure some senior housing,” Golden went on, keeping mum on the specifics. “We’re in the process right now of getting that accomplished. Hopefully that will happen, but what I can tell you is that nothing’s done. What I will tell you is that there’s negotiations and those negotiations are happening because of you, because of the fight that you’re putting up out here, and because they’re nervous.”

“We want to maintain this building, we want to maintain this property and, most of all, we want to keep our seniors here,” contended Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association and active member of the Guardians. “That’s what this is all about.”

Sylvie Rivera, a local resident who was adopted out of the Angel Guardian Home at a young age, was also on hand this time around to attest to the love she once received from the Sisters of Mercy and speak in favor of the site’s saving.

“This place was my home,” said the former resident, adding that she was even baptized at the home at four months old. “I have wonderful memories of Angel Guardian Home. I look back at my life and think, I never had a mother figure. The Sisters of Mercy were my mother.”

The home, Rivera said, got her through some of life’s “greatest hurdles.

“To take this landmark away, it’s horrible,” she said, “and to me, to lose this place is losing a loved one.”

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 third 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  senior center 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.

Until its coming eviction date, Golden, Vella-Marrone and Castagna are urging supporters of the center to keep on keeping the pressure up.

Letters, so far, have been sent to LPC, the Sisters of Mercy and even the Vatican.

“There are no other landmarks in Dyker Heights,” Vella-Marrone 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.

As for the negotiations, Golden said, “we should know more over the next several weeks.”

The Narrows Senior Center is located at 1230 63rd Street.

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