When I sat down with the New York Times reporter to discuss the United Methodist Church of Sheepshead Bay (3087 Ocean Avenue) and its soon-to-expire steeples, he asked me one hundred different ways: how come no one is trying to stop it? If this were brownstone Brooklyn the community would be up in arms, he said. Why not here?
I gave him the long answer, which involved a lot of convoluted sentences and parenthetical statements about community fragmentation, civic decay and media penetration rates. It was an academic answer so unsuitable for quotation that he wrote me an e-mail asking the same question again – in three different ways – just so he could capture one line to push the narrative forward.
The simple answer? We could blame demographic shifts. Or we could blame weak civic institutions. Or the failure of local media to bridge cultural divides.
But at the end of the day, there’s one thing missing from the equation that’s needed before we can blame anything else: a leader.
Of all the media attention the issue got, and all the “Oh, that’s a pity” statements we heard from history buffs and preservationists, not a darn person tried to rally people, raise the money, and save the steeples.
Valerie Landriscina, a Manhattan Beach resident and project associate at RAND Engineering & Architecture, has been quietly reaching out to local officials and church leaders in an attempt to keep the iconic steeples from being ripped down. She’s secured promises from the New York Landmarks Conservancy to match locally-raised funds, and received some encouragement from local politicians.
But obstacles abound.
The church has not been forthcoming with information, and Landriscina is hoping to get a deeper understanding of the church’s assessment.
“Why is everyone so accepting?” she wrote to us by e-mail. “I won’t believe anyone until I see structural calculations. Why shouldn’t the community request that the engineer or architect share his/her analysis at a community board meeting?”
Landriscina wants to work with the church, not against it. But she does believe the institution’s officials have a responsibility to the broader community.
“I really believe that the greater Sheepshead Bay community loves this building and does not want to see it changed. Regardless of whether we belong to the parish, it belongs to our collective memory of the neighborhood,” she wrote on her blog, The Urbanographer.
With some of the groundwork done, and a preservation effort finally finding a voice in Landriscina, success is dependent on manpower now. Petition signatures and a corps of volunteers is what she’s shooting for to help secure pledges for funds, get the church to release technical data, and motivate the local elected to take a more vocal stance.
If you’d like to lend your voice to saving the United Methodist Church, contact Landriscina immediately at email@example.com.