Members of the Our Lady of Pompeii Senior Center are crying “Cut!” over rumored plans to move them out in favor of film crews. Photo by TEQUILA MINSKY
BY CLARISSA-JAM LIM | Film shoots block the sidewalks for hours and inconvenience local residents, sometimes preventing them from even going to and from their own homes. Now comes word that a historic Village church may soon boot local seniors out of its basement in favor of movie crews.
The senior center’s members are panicking amid rumors that Our Lady of Pompeii Church will not renew the lease of Greenwich House’s Senior Center.
Located in the basement of the church on 25 Carmine St., the center has been a fixture in the Village for decades. It provides 1,400 meals a week and a whole host of activities and day trips for the elderly.
Cathryn Perbanazov, 71, has been going to the Our Lady of Pompeii center for two years now. She pointed out that the space is shared with other groups that hold classes and events.
“Many people use that center, not just seniors — people who are homeless, people who are either physically and/or mentally handicapped,” she said.
The New York Post reported that the church’s Father Walter Tonelotto, who is the behind the decision not to renew the lease, wants to rent out the basement to film crews instead. However, Perbanazov emphasized that the space is big enough for everyone to co-exist.
“When they’re filming something, there’s enough room in the basement so that the showbiz people and the people using the center can be there,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that if we’re there, they can’t be there, and vice versa.”
Perbanazov said the alleged reasons for evicting the senior center don’t make much sense.
“What is the real agenda? You want to rent this out and make more money?” she said. “If it’s a staging for television or motion pictures — we’re already doing that. We move to another part of the room, we do our exercise, and then we leave. They don’t bother us, we don’t bother them!”
State Senator Brad Hoylman said he spoke to Tonelotto, and that the father told him he could see another use for the space since it is not currently at maximum usage.
However, Hoylman said, “I don’t think the senior center is the type of facility that lends itself to a cost-benefit analysis.”
Connie Masullo, 86, who has been an on and off member of the center since it opened in 1973, said the move was deplorable.
“This is our community, this is our community church,” she declared. “Whoever is going down to the center are the last people who have made the Village. These are the old-timers, and I think they deserve to have better treatment.”
In an effort to salvage the center’s current space at Our Lady of Pompeii, Hoylman has spearheaded a joint letter co-signed by a number of elected officials imploring Cardinal Dolan to intervene. The letter stated that Greenwich House was willing to address concerns that the church may have, including a rent hike, in order to renew the lease.
“However,” the letter states, “it is our understanding that Father Walter has instructed the senior center to begin looking immediately for alternative space, which suggests he doubts the senior center will be allowed to remain.
“We have heard from many constituents who rely upon the center and are confused and upset that the church would suggest evicting such a treasured and longstanding community institution,” the letter to Dolan continues. “We respectfully urge you to work with Father Walter to ensure that the senior center operated by Greenwich House remains at Our Lady of Pompeii Church and that the specter of eviction be removed entirely from these negotiations.”
The letter is co-signed by Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, Borough President Gale Brewer, state Senator Dan Squadron, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, and City Councilmembers Corey Johnson and Margaret Chin.
Hoylman expressed concern that Greenwich House, the nonprofit organization that operates the senior center, will not be able to find another space.
“We’re talking about some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers who may be evicted from the location, and that would be a travesty,” he said.
For others who live close by, the current location proves convenient. Rina Rosillo, 90, who used to work in insurance, is unable to go too far with her walker from her house on MacDougal and Bleecker Sts.
“I retired when I was 70 and have been coming to Our Lady for more than 15 years,” she said. “For a lot of us, it’s not just the food at lunch, it’s a place to come and talk and have people to socialize with.” Should the basement lease not be renewed, she said, “I’ll have to stay at home.”
Although Hoylman said the ultimate decision does not rest with Tonelotto, but with the archdiocese, the priest nevertheless has considerable say in the matter.
“Here’s a plea I make to the public,” the state senator said. “I would urge members of the church to let the priest know that they want the senior center to stay. Our seniors in the Village deserve to be treated with respect, and I’m hopeful that Our Lady of Pompeii agrees.”
However, so far, Tonelotto has been incommunicado, at least according to Johnson. “The Senior Center at Our Lady of Pompeii Church has been a pillar of the Village community since 1971,” Johnson said. “The services offered are at the core of what the Catholic Church is about, providing routine, enrichment and community — and yet Father Walter’s proposal to close this facility is the very opposite. Closure of this senior center will force many seniors to go hungry or travel further for meals, and eliminate social programs to help people age healthily and stay in their homes. Greenwich House has agreed to pay an increase in rent, as well as figure out ways to help the church better organize the space to make it available to other groups. “And in what appears to be an affront to the community, when my office reached out to set up a meeting with the new father to discuss this issue, it was rejected,” Johnson said. “As the community organizes and the choir of voices grows louder, I hope that the father will see the error of his ways. I’m going to work hard with my colleagues in government to reach an agreement on making sure this neighborhood gem stays in place.”
Tonelotto and the archdiocese did not respond to requests for comment by press time.