Bed-Stuy’s historic St. Lucy-St. Patrick church demolished for housing

bed-stuy church demolition
The historic St. Lucy-St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church was demolished to make way for housing this week.
Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

The historic St. Lucy-St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church, which has dominated a block of Bed-Stuy’s Willoughby Avenue since 1856, was torn down in clouds of dust this week to make way for housing.

The demolition of the red-brick Gothic Revival church building at 920 Kent Ave., also known as 295 Willoughby Ave, and a petite attached three-story structure are the latest in a string of demolitions of religious buildings along the thoroughfare. The church’s four-story rectory at 285 Willoughby Ave., on the corner of Taaffe Place, was spared the wrecking ball.

While the demolition wasn’t a total surprise after Williamsburg-based developer Watermark Capital Group in July entered contract to buy the two sites, the demolition still had passersby in shock.

demolition at bed-stuy church
Crews worked to tear down the pre-Civil War church and a nearby building starting on Jan. 8. Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

Marisa Lee, and many others who stopped to watch sections of the historic church come crumbling down, said she wished there was a way to save elements of the church and incorporate them into whatever came next.

“It’s a shame,” she said. “It’s sad.”

It didn’t appear much had been salvaged of the building’s more than 160-year-old elements, with stained glass windows and the decorative wooden detailing around the organ falling into the pile of rubble as the excavator tore through.

The Roman Catholic Church of St. Patrick was able to “salvage religious patrimony” from the church and rectory buildings before the closing of the sale to Watermark Capital Group, according to court filings supporting the sale. The petition filed by the church says it had debts that more than quadrupled its cash assets.

A permit to demolish the church — described as a one-story building at 920 Kent Ave./299 Willoughby Ave. — was issued in November. It’s unclear whether that covered the three-story section of the rectory that was demolished, given there was no separate demolition permit issued for the building, but PropertyShark shows the church and smaller rectory building as one building on one lot.

Watermark Capital Group, through 295 Willoughby LLC, purchased the rectory at 285 Willoughby Ave. for $3 million and the church building for $9.25 million in November, city records show.

bed-stuy church
The church, pre-demolition, in Aug. 2023. Photo by Susan De Vries

The developer’s projects in Brooklyn include a 19-story apartment tower that replaced a one-story church at 321 Wythe Ave. in Williamsburg and the adaptive reuse of an historic school at 125 Eagle St. in Greenpoint, a Romanesque Revival building that lost its distinctive gable and front entrance after 2012, old photos show.

It’s not yet clear what the developer’s plans are for the large site. A a new-building permit application has been filed for a two-family four-story house taking up just a fraction of the property. The size of the lot and the R6B residential zoning means a building almost three times bigger than the church could go up. 

Meanwhile, the mansard-roofed rectory at 285 Willoughby Ave. that was spared the wrecking ball already exceeds its allowable floor area ratio. The sale of the church and the rectory appears to have included air rights from 918 Kent Ave., a neighboring church building that has been converted to affordable apartments.

City records show prior to the sale, the Roman Catholic Church entered an agreement with St. Lucy-St. Patrick Housing Development Fund Corporation, 918 Kent’s owner, to create one tax lot from the three sites at 918 and 920 Kent Ave. and 285 Willoughby Ave. The agreement gives both parties increased development rights, documents show.

The church, which was initially just St. Patrick, was completed in 1856 and designed by architect James J. Lyons, according to newspaper accounts of the time. The rectory went up around 1875, according to the Real Estate Record. In the 20th century, the church combined with St. Lucy to become St. Lucy-St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church.

column in bed-stuy church
The church’s historic decorative elements were torn down with the structure. Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

The site is just outside the Clinton Hill Historic District and is part of what was once a three-block span down Willoughby Avenue of stately 1850s and 1860s red brick and brownstone buildings owned by religious institutions.

It is the latest in a years-long building sell off by churches all over the borough, which have faced declining attendance and deteriorating structures while property values have skyrocketed. Many have been demolished for new housing, but in some cases buildings are altered or extended, and occasionally preserved and adapted for new uses.

A version of this story first appeared on Brooklyn Paper’s sister site Brownstoner