Former Angel Guardian Home residents push for landmarking of convent building

angel guardian home
The Angel Guardian Home.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Have some mercy!

Former Angel Guardian Home residents urged landmarks officials to salvage what’s left of the historic Sisters of Mercy complex at a city hearing on Aug. 11, arguing that the sprawling site carries deep emotional value.

“The Angel Guardian Home was the only visual photo I had of my childhood, along with a three-and-a-half page history I had of my foster life,” said Sylvia Rivera, who lived in the former orphanage from infancy to 18 months, but continued to visit it frequently. “Overlooking these tall iron gates was the safe haven I always treasured … Please let it be named a historic landmark, and not let it be erased like a page omitted from history books.”

The hearing, held by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, is the first step towards the Angel Guardian Home’s potential landmarking — which, if approved, would make the stately, 1899 building Dyker Heights’ first official landmark. 

More than a dozen locals, former staffers, and residents who found families through the orphanage celebrated the building’s potential landmarking — but urged the commission to landmark the adjacent convent building as well.

angel guardian home
City landmarking officials will soon hold a vote on whether or not to designate Dyker Heights’ Angel Guardian Home as a historic landmark.Photo by Caroline Ourso

“I’m delighted that this is the first perspective individual landmark in Dyker Heights that’s located within Community District 10,” said Josephine Beckmann, the district manager of Community Board 10. “[The convent building] is also designed as the same high style as the orphanage building, and we feel also deserves landmark protection. We fear if it is not preserved, it will be destroyed.”

The convent building, which sits to the left of the main orphanage on 63rd Street, is the only other remaining structure on the block-long Angel Guardian campus bordered by 12th and 13th avenues and 63rd and 64th streets. The walled-off property used to feature multiple buildings and a bucolic landscape of winding pathways and large trees, but almost all of it was demolished after the Sisters of Mercy sold the land to a developer in 2018.

The lot behind the two remaining buildings on 12th Avenue will house condos, and the lot facing 13th Avenue will feature a public school. Scott Barone, whose management company bought the property and divided it up into three parcels, said that he always planned to save the main building. 

“It was always part of our mission from day one to preserve this building,” he said at the hearing. The structure will house “luxury” assisted living for seniors, he told Brooklyn Paper in 2018. 

Local leaders say they lobbied the Landmarks Preservation Commission to save the entire lot just after its hush-hush sale, but the commission did not calendar a hearing until after most of the campus was demolished.

Developers have demolished most of the block where the Angel Guardian complex used to stand to build condos and a public school.Photo by Caroline Ourso

“We supported [landmarking] from the position of the entire lot, but unfortunately, since then pieces of the lot have been sold off and we’re left with two buildings, the main building and the convent building,” said Dyker Heights Civic Association head, Fran Vella-Marrone, at the hearing. “[The convent’s] got architectural value, it’s got historic value, but more importantly, we need to be recognized in our community.” 

A local historian said she suspects that the commission chose not to landmark the entire lot before its demolition because the owners of the two properties refused to cooperate with them.

“As this info was submitted immediately after the sale, I’m sure it was all examined and they made a staff decision to exclude,” history Kelly Carroll told Brooklyn Paper. “Owner consent is nowhere in the landmarks laws, but it makes everybody’s lives easier.”

One speaker at the hearing slammed the commission for carving out the convent building, and speculated that it resulted from a deal between the commissioners, elected officials, and developers.

“Frankly, between the question of whether it’s a compromise arrangement or whether it’s invisible to the commission that this merits designation — I don’t know which I would feel less comfortable about, because either one does not speak well of the commission,” said Jeffrey Kroessler, the chair of the Historic Preservation Committee of The City Club of New York. 

Others took a lighter note, thanking the commission for considering the building, and focusing on its importance to the community.

“I cant say enough about the Sisters of Mercy and the Catholic charities,” said Gregory Mango, who was adopted from the orphanage in 1966. “It would be wonderful for me to see the place landmarked because it holds a special place in my heart.” 

The commission did not respond to the speakers’ concerns during hearing, which included only public testimony, and did not respond to an immediate request for comment. The agency will soon calendar a vote regarding the Angel Guardian Home’s landmark status, officials said at the hearing.