Mary Help of Christians Demolition OK’d, Preservationists Plan Rally

Mary Help of ChristiansChelsia Rose Marcius

A plan to demolish Mary Help of Christians has been approved despite preservationists’ efforts to keep the century-old church standing.

“It’s really a terrible loss for the East Village,” said Richard Moses, president of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative. Mr. Moses said his preservation group and others requested a meeting with Douglas Steiner, the developer who bought the church property for $41 million last November, but never heard back. Now the groups are planning a rally for next month.

The application for full demolition was approved by the Department of Buildings yesterday, documents show. Mr. Steiner’s plans call for an 80/20-percent mix of market-rate and affordable housing.

“We’ve reached out to other groups in the neighborhood and we’ll see what the next steps should be,” said Mr. Moses. “At this point, it’s going to be up to Steiner’s goodwill for any chance for this building to survive.” He believes the church could stand alongside new construction. “It should be fairly easy to incorporate the church into the new development. There are millions of examples of churches being converted for residential or commercial use. Why he would not decide to go that route is a mystery to me.”

Andrew Berman, the executive director for the G.V.S.H.P., called the latest development “heartbreaking.” “It is a shame,” he said. “We had asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider the building for landmark designation, given its incredible history and beautiful architecture. They refused to even hold a hearing on it.” The G.V.S.H.P., the L.E.S.P.I., the Historic Districts Council, and the East Village Community Coalition made the request in February; it was rejected because the church didn’t meet the criteria for designation.

Neighborhood residents, some of whom had joined preservationists’ efforts, are also disturbed by the development. Diana Timmons, who lives steps away from the church and mailed a letter asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to evaluate it, told The Local, “This is such sad news. Now our block will look like any other block in the depressed downtown of any city.”

Janet Bonica, a former parishioner whose grandparents were were married in the church’s chapel in 1909 and whose parents were married there in 1946, told The Local, “We knew this day was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept this sad news. This is a great loss for those of us with ties to Mary Help of Christians, as well as to those who live in the neighborhood.”

“I never thought I would see the day when my church would be demolished,” she said. “I feel like my past is being erased.”

Margaret Hearn, a longtime former parishioner and neighborhood resident, said former parishioners continue to pray the rosary outside the church. “It continues a familial bond for the parishioners,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Steiner declined to comment.