Looking to Save Something of the Green Church
Memories of the Green Church – Activists record recollections
By Helen Klein
Even as the struggle continues to preserve Bay Ridge’s beloved Green Church, a group of committed activists is reaching out into the community asking area residents for memories of the building, which many consider to be one of the premier landmarks of the neighborhood.
This past Saturday, the Save the Green Church Committee set up outside the venerable Bay Ridge United Methodist Church at Fourth and Ovington Avenues, and videotaped local residents recounting their remembrances of the church, which is currently threatened with demolition.
“At least 25 people came by,” reported Kathy Walker, one of the group’s organizers, “people who went to Sunday school there, people who were parishioners and left, people who got married there, people who live around the corner.”
Young and old alike shared their recollections, said Victoria Hofmo, the founder of the Bay Ridge Conservancy. One woman spoke about her friend’s wedding that had taken place in the Green Church, she said. In addition, said Hofmo, a resident of Ovington Avenue had spoken about going to Boy Scout meetings at the church. “He wasn’t in the parish, but he came there a lot,” Hofmo noted.
In addition, Hofmo recalled, two young girls who had attended the HeartShare day care program at the church also stopped by, and spoke about their experiences of going to school there. “Some people just spoke for a few seconds,” Hofmo noted. “Some spoke for half an hour.”
Walker, too, shared her memories. As an active parishioner at Bethlehem Lutheran Church across the street, she said, “I easily wore down a path in the pavement from Ridge Boulevard to Fourth Avenue., walking these two blocks at least three times per week for about 12 years.
“I fondly remember gazing at the clock tower against the sky, hearing the birds, feasting my eyes on the stained glass windows,” Walker went on. “As I passed by the Methodist church, there was a distinct feeling of serenity, majesty, beauty. I would add, there was a sense of almost holiness on this corner: Two gorgeous old buildings facing each other, built by immigrants seeking a new, better life I just cannot imagine that glorious structure not being there. We must save her, the Old Green Lady. Too much of Bay Ridge is in her mortar.”
Besides those who wanted to share their recollections of the church, people also came by who wanted to learn exactly what state the church building is in, said Walker.
The congregation put the church and surrounding property on the market, about two years ago, stating that they had made the decision based on the deteriorated condition of the structure. The church is faced with fragile serpentine stone that gives it its distinctive color but which has not stood up well to time and the elements – a situation that has led church members to say that the structure itself is crumbling.
However, while no one disputes that the facing stone has deteriorated, those who want the church preserved say that it is their understanding that, “There’s a couple of feet of brick behind it that is in good standing,” said Walker.
There is not much time left to act to save the church. Currently, the congregation is believed to be closing in on a deal with a developer, who it is believed would raze the church and put up an apartment building on the site.
To get to this point, the congregation previously rejected a proposal by Con Edison’s Renaissance Project, put together at the request of City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, that would have resulted in the construction of senior housing on the parking lot, preserving the sanctuary and providing the church with about $300,000 a year to use to further their mission and repair the church structure.
In addition, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) had declined to calendar the building for landmark consideration.
The idea of gathering people’s stories of the church arose after many people stopped by the committee’s table at Viking Fest and the Fifth Avenue Festival and spoke about the church. Recalled Hofmo, Susan Sively, one of the committee’s members, had said, “There are so many wonderful stories about the church. I wish there were a way to document them.
“I said, why not do a video? We want to put it on YouTube, and we have a blog going up,” Hofmo went on.
The effort to gather residents’ recollections of the church has just begun, added Hofmo. She said that she was hoping that many more people would come forward with their memories. Those who would like to share theirs can call her at 718-748-5950.
©Courier-Life Publications 2007