Landmarks Considers Converting Former Catholic Orphanage into a Jewish Yeshiva

Angel Guardian Home, Main Building. Image Credit: LPC.

NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission heard a proposal to substantially renovate and convert Angel Guardian Home, an individual landmark, into a Yeshiva. On August 2, 2022, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing for an application that would substantially renovate the Angel Guardian Home located at 6301 12th Avenue in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. The proposal intends to convert Angel Guardian Home into a Yeshiva for the Gur International Chassidic Sect. For CityLand’s previous coverage on Angel Guardian Home’s designation as an individual landmark in 2020, click here.

Angel Guardian Home commands the entire 12th Avenue frontage between 63rd and 64th Streets. It features a red brick façade with limestone trim and copper cornices. It was built as an orphanage building in 1899 by designer and architect George H. Streeton in a Renaissance Revival/Beaux-Arts style. Additions to the orphanage were built in 1910, and the orphanage eventually closed in the 1980’s after which the building was used as a senior gathering place by surrounding community members.

Following a purchase of Angel Guardian Home by developer Scott Barone in 2018, worried community members and advocates pushed for the building to be landmarked to prevent the developer from demolishing the historic building and replacing it with residential homes or other infrastructures.

Although the orphanage comprised of four different buildings, only three of the buildings were eventually landmarked: a four-story main building that once acted as the orphanage, a three-story building known as the north wing that once housed a classroom for the orphans, and a two-story building known as the south wing that once housed a chapel.

The property was eventually sold to Talmud Torah Imrei Emes D’Chasidei Gur in December 2020, who is now attempting to convert the orphanage into a Yeshiva for the Gur Sect for approximately 600 Pre-K through 8th grade children.

The Yeshiva’s proposed changes were presented by John Englund and Harry Kendall from BKSK Architects LLP.

Maintaining the Greenery along the 12th Avenue Frontage

In front of the buildings, there is an area of approximately 60 feet by 172 feet overgrown with grass, trees, and other greeneries. The developers proposed to retain only three of the trees and plant one additional tree to preserve the greenery. They also proposed to remove all the other greenery including the grass and replace it with a rubberized material where the school children could play.

The Commissioners opposed this idea and wanted more of the greenery preserved while containing as minimal rubberized permeable play-surface as possible. The Commissioners presented various ideas including using artificial turf in order to maintain the ambiance of the area, retaining mature trees and its accompanying shaded areas, and widening the borders on street sides to account for more greenery.

New and Improved Entrances

The site is currently accessible by one main gated entrance on 12th Avenue and one side entrance on 64th Street, with one additional entrance between the main building and each of the wings. The main entrance has a green front gate with a sign displaying the words “The Angel Guardian Home” and a set of four steep stairs following a little behind the gate.

The developers proposed to change the color of all the gates throughout the site, to black, and change the wording on the gate’s sign to state the school’s name. They also proposed to enlarge the front gate by shifting the two ornamental posts more apart and adding a new similar-style gate in its place; two new dedication plaques will be placed on either side of the gate. The staircase behind the gate, containing four steps, that is four feet, four inches long would be replaced with six longer steps reaching a total of 24 feet, to provide easier access for young children.

The developers proposed to remove the step by the 64th Street entrance to make it wheelchair accessible while retaining its gate. A new aluminum glass transom will replace existing signage above the door and three new signs will be added: one above the door, one on the door displaying the school’s logo, and one on the façade of the building. The signage lettering will be individual letters, acrylic, the color brown, mounted on the building’s façade via stainless steel studs, and will be in Hebrew letters that state the school’s name and the particular entrance’s name.

The developers proposed to add an additional entrance on 63rd Street, making a second wheelchair accessible entrance. The new entrance will take the place of the second to last window in the north wing building, and a section of the granite masonry in front will be removed to accommodate a new stairway and ramp. A similar style of signage will be present on this entrance as planned for the 64th Street entrance.

The two entrances along the sides of the main building will be upgraded and improved by adding new stairs, landings, and doors, removing existing windows, adding a new entrance, removing iron gates, and rerouting existing downspouts.

The Commissioners were okay with these proposed changes.

12th Avenue Main Entrance

Beyond the front gate, a distinctive and remarkably intact terra cotta main entrance stands. The entrance features a single metal door with sidelights, an abrupt descension from the door onto the staircase, obscure round-glass elements with crosses in the fanlight, and religious iconography in a panel above the vestibule.

The developers proposed to keep the terra cotta structure intact, replace the existing door with glazed aluminum doors, extend the landing outside the entry door for the safety of the children, add railings at the sides of the staircase to assist children in going up and down the staircase, and add Hebrew lettering on the entrance’s arch stating the entrance’s name. They also proposed to replace the round-glass elements containing crosses with similar obscure glass elements and cover the religious iconography with a fiberglass reinforced panel containing the school’s logo.

The developers proposed to add a 54 foot by one-inch Hebrew lettering signage on the main building’s façade above the second-floor windows, which covers approximately half of the length of the building.

The Commissioners expressed that the main entrance door should integrate a lower panel, consistent with the original doors, instead of proposed full-height glass doors. The Commissioners were also concerned with the amount of signage visible from the front entrance: one sign on the main gate, two plaque signs on either side of the gate, one sign on the arch above the main entrance, one terra cotta sign above the arch, and one long signage along the front façade above the second-floor windows. In particular, many Commissioners and public testifiers were opposed to the signage on the arch above the main entrances arguing that it was troubling, inappropriate, and potentially diminishes the nature and integrity of the building.

Rendering of the proposed signage around the entrance. Click for a larger image. Image Credit: LPC/bdf +BKSK

The Commissioners thought that the use of acrylic for the lettering signage throughout the building would be inappropriate. They also suggested that the signage above the second-floor windows be shortened as it appears excessive and unnecessary. The Commissioners agreed that the signage on the main gate with a plaque on each side was an acceptable addition.

Preserving the 15 Stained-Glass Panes

The 64th Street south wing building originally housed a chapel and will be revamped into an indoor multi-purpose space for the Yeshiva, including recreation. The south wing currently features 15 stained-glass window panes depicting religious iconography.

The developers proposed to have the 15 stained-glass window panes removed and replaced with 15 similar-shaped windows. The window panes will be intact, stored, and will find a new home. The developers plan to remove all the crosses on site as it conflicts with the Yeshiva’s missions, values, and teachings.

The Commissioners found the removal of the stained-glass window panes depicting religious iconography unfortunate but acceptable so long as the stained-glass window panes are taken care of. The Commissioners and public testifiers agreed that the stained-glass window panes need to be placed in appropriate cases and stored properly, need not be destroyed but preserved and retrofitted, and should be removed in its entirety and intact before finding them a new home. The Commissioners found the proposal of removing the crosses acceptable.

Installing an Elevator and Rooftop Bulkhead

The developers proposed to install a new elevator in the main building to make each floor accessible. In addition, a bulkhead will be needed to be added on the rooftop to accommodate the new elevator. The developers planned to build the bulkhead near the back-left corner of the main building, closer to 63rd Street. The bulkhead was proposed to be clad in a dark grey zinc metal. The developers also proposed to remove the gate around the rooftop and in its place add a roofsafe rail system.

The Commissioners agreed that the elevator bulkhead should be shifted towards the center of the building to not be as pronounced and should possibly be made with copper. The Commissioners suggested that all metalwork that was originally copper should remain copper but can be painted to the desired color. The Commissioners found the removal of the rooftop railings acceptable, though one public testifier noted that the railings appear to be a bit bulky.

Installing Mechanical Equipment

With the upgrade of the site, new mechanical equipment will need to be installed throughout each of the buildings. The developers proposed to add mechanical equipment between the main building and the 63rd Street north wing. In doing so, the rear shaft will be infilled with bricks to enclose the equipment. Additionally, more mechanical equipment will be installed between the main building and the 64th Street south wing. For the bulk of the mechanical equipment, the developers proposed to take advantage of the rooftop on the one-story kitchen extension building behind the main building. The gate on top of this roof was proposed to be heightened to better protect the installed mechanical equipment. The developers also proposed to add exhaust fans on the main building’s rooftop.

The Commissioners found the proposals for all the mechanical equipment acceptable.

Click for a larger diagram to show the requested changes. Image Credit: LPC/bdf + BKSK


Installing Lights, Security Cameras, and Speakers

The site currently features minimal lighting, with one known light over the main entrance doorway, and no known security cameras or speakers.

The developers proposed to install approximately 38 small light fixtures on the front façade of the main building, 18 light pole fixtures throughout the site, two small lights flanking each door entrance, and additional step lighting at the ramp by the new proposed entrance at 63rd Street. In addition, nine security cameras, four speakers, and a door phone and keypad at each entrance door were proposed to be installed. On the façade of the two wing buildings, additional light fixtures, including mounted ones, and security cameras were proposed to be added. On the roof of each building more exterior light fixtures were proposed to be added.

The Commissioners and public testifiers agreed that the number of light fixtures throughout the site is overly excessive and should be reduced and minimal. One public testifier also expressed that the use of speakers may disturb the community members surrounding the site.

Basement Access

The main building, beyond the four above-ground floors, also has a basement that can be accessed through the doors in between the main building and the wing buildings. The basement level is used as a public assembly space.

The developers proposed to make the basement level more easily accessible by doing some excavation work to make the descent into the basement area more commodious. Two windows by both wing entrances will be removed, one being infilled with similar bricking, and another being replaced with a second larger entrance leading into the basement. The gates existing between the two wings and the center building will be removed and stored with no replacement. The developers proposed to extend the bridge leading from the 64th Street south wing to provide better access to the basement.

The Commissioners did not have any issues with these proposals.

Window Details and Renovations

The main building has many windows that are heavily damaged, broken, infilled, or frameless. The windows are round head windows on the third floor and square head windows on the first and second floors, some with a transom and some without. The window frames are currently black in color.

The developers proposed to give the building a cleaner look by filling in some windows, removing some bricks to put in a window that is parallel with the other windows, and closing some other windows and doorways at the rear façade of the main building to accommodate for more windows. Additionally, all the window frames will be changed to white. The developers proposed to have a majority of the openings on the first level of the rear façade infilled with bricks.

The Commissioners did not have issues with these proposals.

Gur Yeshiva’s Representative Yechiel Segal spoke about the project and the goal of keeping this building “as a beacon of kindness and religious education for young children” as well as “looking back at what previous generations have done and accomplished, thus looking forward to improving society and mankind.” Segal expressed the Yeshiva’s intention of toiling to preserve whatever they can within the building, for “every stone has its story, each brick its own tale.”

Landmarks Commissioner Frederick Bland stated, “I was very moved by the opening statement by the Representative of the Yeshiva—past is prologue—and that’s exactly what this is. And I think it’s a poetical story here how, [with] the community around [the building’s change in demographics], the building will change ever so slightly only to accommodate that very extraordinary change in use, from a Catholic to a Jewish building. I think it’s kind of a wonderful and very hopeful sign for our City.”

Christina Britton Conroy for the Victorian Society expressed concerns with the sizes and addition of transoms over certain windows, the abundance of lights, speakers, and security cameras proposed, and the preservation, and not destruction, of the pictorial stained-glass window panes.

Michelle Arbulu for the Historic Districts Council expressed concerns with the signage above the entrance arch, the color of the side door, the rear façade of the wall near the elevator, and the new windows that will replace the stained-glass window panes. Another person expressed concerns about the current state of the building.

Kelly Carroll, a preservation consultant and former director of advocacy at the Historic Districts Council, expressed concerns about the excess in lighting and signage, that signage should not be pinned to the infrastructure, about preserving the stained-glass pieces, and about reducing the use of hardscape materials in the front yard.

Brooklyn Community Board 10 expressed concerns with the signage being pinned to the façade of the building, the roof railing being too high, the current landscaping being preserved, the shrubbery border being widened, the stained-glass window panes being replaced with regular windows as opposed to appropriate iconography, and the stained-glass window panes being deposited with the Catholic dioceses and not disposed of.

No action was taken and the Commissioners want the designers and architects to take the Commissioners’ concerns and comments into consideration before coming forward with a new proposal that the Commission hopes would better preserve the integrity and nature of this building as an Independent Landmark.

By: Malka Amar (Malka is a CityLaw intern and New York Law School student, Class of 2023.)

LPC: Angel Guardian Home (LP 22-08731, August 2, 2022).


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