Unanswered prayers: Locals blast landmarks agency for rejecting bid to save Italian church in Dyker Heights

Don’t knock it down: Members of the Guardians of the Guardian committee are trying to save St. Rosalia’s Church, at 14th Avenue and 63rd Street in Dyker Heights, from the wrecking ball by getting it landmarked by the city.
Photo by Taylor Balkom

They’ll need a miracle to save this church now.

Devout Dyker Heights preservationists blasted the city Landmarks Preservation Commission for rejecting their bid to save a more-than-century-old beloved local church, ensuring that it will soon meet the wrecking ball. One of the locals who led a posse of parishioners trying to save St. Rosalia Church at 14th Avenue and 63rd Street, said that the church was worthy of preservation given its history — especially since the neighborhood doesn’t even have any landmarks.

“I do think that it still has historical and cultural significance — once again, we’re talking about our part of the community that has no landmarks whatsoever,” said Fran Vella-Marrone.

Vella-Marrone and other locals from the Guardians of the Guardian group — the same civic group leading the landmarking push for the nearby Angel Guardian home — submitted a request for the landmarks agency to evaluate the church on Feb. 27, an agency rep confirmed. But the agency ultimately disagreed that the church is important enough to merit landmark status. At the beginning of this month, its officials released a statement saying that the church didn’t have enough historic or cultural significance to be designated as a landmark, adding that the panel couldn’t landmark every structure citywide that locals asked it to consider.

“After carefully reviewing the building’s architectural and historical qualities, the Landmarks Preservation Commission determined that it does not rise to the level of significance necessary for consideration as a potential individual landmark,” said spokeswoman Zodet Negron. “We appreciate the importance of the building to its community, but in a city the size of New York, with its many religious structures, the commission must be very selective in choosing examples of this building type for designation as individual landmarks.”

Italian immigrants founded the church, named after the patron saint of the Italian city of Palermo, in 1902. But about 50 years later parishioners founded the nearby Basilica of Regina Pacis — which translates to “queen of peace” — on 65th Street between 12th and 13th avenues to thank the saint for the America’s victory in World War II.

St. Rosalia is still considered the parish’s “mother church,” but as with mothers throughout history, St. Rosalia will sacrifice for the betterment of her progeny, according to the Brooklyn Diocese.

The sale of St. Rosalia is to “ensure the future of the parish,” insisted a spokeswoman for the Diocese, adding that funds from the sale would be directed to Regina Pacis. But she did not respond to a request for comment about why the property was being sold as an empty lot — a condition the Diocese placed on the sale, which the pastor, Monsignor Ronald Marino, announced to parishioners in a church bulletin at the beginning of March. The rep added that the Diocese has begun the process of removing the patrimony — including the stained glass windows, statues, and pews — from St. Rosalia, some of which will be stored at the Lady of Lourdes Church on Furman Street in Bushwick.

Marino said that he had St. Rosalia’s main alter and a statue moved to Regina Pacis to try to preserve the memory of the mother church.

“I’ve been trying to show the connection so we don’t lose the history,” he said.

Marino added that the Diocese has not found a buyer for the property yet and that he can’t see how the church would be demolished before the fall. The property is zoned for retail use, including offices and hotels.

Another devout parishioner lamented the future of the church, saying that its demolition would be the death knell for an epoch in the neighborhood.

“The landmarking didn’t go through — it’s a done deal. It’s going to be demolished, and the Diocese is going to do what they’re going to do with it,” said Carl Esposito. “It’s sad, it’s really sad. It’s like the end of an era.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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