Slowly and deliberately, on the last Wednesday in August, workmen removed portions of the rose window from the façade of the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church.
Only barely visible from the intersection of Fourth and Ovington Avenues, which the sanctuary – known fondly as the “Green Church” — has graced for the past 108 years, the work went on, the first steps in the dismantling and probable demolition of the structure.
Advocates for saving the edifice fear that the window’s removal is “the beginning of the end,” noted one observer.
According to the existing contract between the congregation and Abe Betesh of Abeco Management, the church and two companion buildings must be demolished before the property can be transferred to Betesh, who has agreed to pay $9.75 million for it, and plans to build housing at the site, as well as a new, smaller sanctuary for the congregation.
The rose window is not the only piece of stained glass being removed from the sanctuary. Gone is the stained glass above the church doors as well as a full length stained glass window.
In addition, items from inside the church are being removed; activists report seeing antique dealers’ trucks parked outside the edifice. Kathy Walker, the co-chairperson of the Committee to Save the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, said last Thursday that, “One of our members looked inside yesterday and saw destruction in there.”
The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) – which issues permits for demolition as well as construction — was notified of the activity.
The agency responded to a complaint called in to 311 on August 27th of interior demolition taking place at the location by sending out an inspector who reported, according to DOB’s website, “No violation warranted for complaint at time of inspection. No evidence of interior demolition.” The inspection occurred, according to DOB, at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Friday, August 29th.
However, despite the evidence of their eyes, those advocating for the preservation of the church are not ready to throw in the towel.
City Councilmember Vincent Gentile – who has been trying to broker a deal between the congregation and an alternative buyer who would keep the church intact – expressed disappointment that the stained glass was being removed from the sanctuary.
“We still have some negotiations on the table so it’s a little bit disturbing to me that they’re moving to take down the windows,” he told this paper. “Granted, it looks grim but all hope has not been extinguished, for them to move in this fashion and desecrate the church in that manner. It’s very sad.”
Walker concurred. “They’re going to do what they’re going to do, because they can,” she remarked. “Of course, we are disheartened. It wasn’t said they were going to do this. There were other developers negotiating with Vinnie and, all of a sudden, the windows are coming out.
“Maybe, if the building is saved, they could get the windows back, but it is very unfortunate,” she went on. “It’s a loss, but as long as Vinnie is negotiating with alternative buyers, there’s still hope.”
Nonetheless, said Walker, members of the committee are unwillingly looking ahead to the possibility that the church will be demolished. Beyond the pain of losing a local landmark whose beauty has beguiled passersby for over a century, there are also practical health concerns related to such an event, she stressed.
“The building is over 100 years old,” Walker stressed. “If it comes tumbling down, there could very well be asbestos, lead paint, all kinds of debris flying into the air. There are senior citizens and children and people with asthma near there. That’s what we want to address.
“Our question is, is there going to be some kind of review by the Department of Environmental Protection or the Department of Health? “ Walker went on. “Are there safeguards for the community with a building this big and this old?”
The congregation initially decided to sell the church because of the cost of maintaining the church, which they said was in poor condition. However, this assessment has been challenged by local activists who contend that, while facing stone has been falling off, there is nothing to show that the underlying structure is dilapidated and that, in fact, it has survived not only the constant barrage of train traffic underground but also last year’s tornado.
In July, DOB rejected an initial application to construct a new seven-story residential building and church at the location.
The existing church is on the state and national Registers of Historic Places.
By press time, the Reverend Robert Emerick – the pastor of the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church – had not responded to repeated calls for comment.