A quest by Clinton Hill preservationists to save a historic convent building has become even more urgent now that the last remaining nuns are moving out and the religious complex may be put up for sale.
With the 146-year-old Sisters of Mercy compound on Willoughby Avenue getting mothballed in the coming weeks, the Society for Clinton Hill wants the city to declare it a landmark so that the convent cannot be knocked down.
“We’ve been worried about that property for a long time because of the decline in the number of nuns,” said Sharon Barnes, a member of the civic group, which requested landmark status for the cloister, along with four other unprotected neighborhood beauties, in 2007.
The neighborhood group is still awaiting a decision from the often-tardy Landmarks Preservation Commission.
“Clinton Hill is known for its churches,” Barnes said. “We’ve seen so many luxury condos go up, so we’d like to preserve this.”
The uncertainty hanging over the convent sparked an online petition drive to hasten a ruling from the city. The letter affirms that the nunnery is worth safeguarding as “an important example of an intact 19th-century religious complex,” and because the convent “was designed by Brooklyn resident Patrick C. Keely, the most important Catholic-church architect in America in the mid-19th century.”
A spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission said her office is studying an expansion of the existing Clinton Hill Historic District of brownstones, carriage houses, churches and the famed Clinton Avenue mansions, which would bring the convent into the protected zone.
Until December, there were 29 sisters living in the walled property, between Classon Avenue and Taaffe Place. That number is down to 13, and they are expected to be resettled by the end of January, according to a spokeswoman for the religious order.
Besides the motherhouse, there is also a chapel and a building erected on the premises in 1883 as a girls’ orphanage. Though physically impressive, the buildings are damaged and would cost $20 million to repair — a sum the order cannot afford.
For now, the convent is not changing hands.
“The future is yet to be determined,” said Debbie DellaPorta, a spokeswoman for the Sisters of Mercy.