Our Lady of Vilnius Church, built by families of immigrant Lithuanian longshoremen, started out a century ago as a beloved worship space. Now, it’s a coveted real estate asset.
In 2013, six years after the church was closed, it was sold for $13 million to one of the city’s biggest developers. The following year that company flipped it like a pancake to another developer for $18.4 million.
Now the yellow brick church near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel awaits demolition to make way for an 18-story luxury apartment house.
“It makes you cynical,” says Christina Nakraseive, a former parishioner who supported the legal case against the church closing until it was rejected by the state’s highest court. “It seems like it’s all about real estate.”
The issue has taken on added significance since the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, citing declining attendance, rising costs and a looming priest shortage, announced plans to merge scores of parishes and close dozens of churches this year.
The move raises an issue that has been faced by thousands (no one seems to know exactly how many) of shuttered houses of worship across the Northeast and Midwest: What to do with buildings that are often architecturally important and always sentimentally important, especially since a church’s shape, age and location makes the building hard to reuse?
The booming residential real estate market in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn offers a solution, albeit controversial: Demolish them for — or even convert them to – housing.
Several closed churches have been torn down to make way for apartment houses, including Mary Help of Christians in the East Village, which preservationists failed to save.
A few have been converted to apartments. A developer who paid $13.8 million in 2011 for St. Vincent de Paul Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn turned it into The Spire Lofts, a 40-unit apartment house. A former Pentecostal church in the Greenpoint section was converted into three apartments, each renting for about $100,000 a year. Wood-beamed ceilings and peaked windows remind residents of the building’s ecclesiastical roots.
Several other such projects are in the works. The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Brooklyn probably will be torn down, and St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in the same borough will be converted into apartments, with a triplex in the steeple.
There are worries that real estate values might undercut Gospel ones.
SOURCE: Rick Hampson