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Counting Down to the End of Mary Help of Christians

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People have been saying that "the East Village is dead" since locals spotted the first popped Izod collar on the streets in the early 1980s. In the spirit of that overused expression, East Village-based blogger (and past Curbed contributor) EV Grieve will check in from time to time with a column titled, of course, "This Week in the East Village is dead."

For nearly five years, residents and parishioners have been administering last rites to the Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church on East 12th Street near Avenue A. In May 2007, The New York Times reported that the Roman Catholic church would close as part of a realignment by the Archdiocese of New York.

Meanwhile, rumors of development date to 2008, when The Real Deal reported that two-thirds of the playground space along Avenue A had been sold in an all-cash deal for $10.4 million. That deal never materialized.

Some four years later, the Church and adjacent (and vacant) school are still standing. There is one sparsely attended mass in Spanish on Sunday mornings as well as an evening Rosary.

Since July, we've heard from multiple people that an unnamed developer bought the church and accompanying property, and it will close for good after September 1 to build an apartment complex. Church reps have yet to make any official announcements of a sale.

"If Mary Help of Christians Church is demolished, I don't think I will ever be able to go past that property again," Janet Bonica, a parishioner who was born and raised in the East Village, told the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation this past March. "I cannot help but feel that we lost our church because it is sitting on a valuable parcel of real estate."

Aside from the loss of a historic church that opened in 1917, residents are also coming to terms with the continued loss of the community that it represented. The church parking lot has hosted a flea market on and off for several years, a now-near-daily occurrence that attracts a cast of personalities from the East Village of, say, 15 years ago.

"I am already mourning the visual feast and treasure troves of memorabilia, furniture, great vintage, and, of course, visiting my vendor friends in a parking lot filled with characters," said Our Lady of Perpetual PMS, a downtown artist and thrift store connoisseur. "I don't know where else to score both a cheap 1950s slip and a delicious plate of cheap Latin food, in a rare and raw environment where the thought of shopping does not suck nor overwhelm."

"It isn't commercial, it isn't another bar?it is a place where anyone can enter and interact with people, browse, get ideas and find treasure in someone else's trash," said filmmaker Karen Gehres, a Lower East Side resident since 1984. "It is something real and very alive. What's dire about the closing of the flea market is that it is the last of its kind in our neighborhood."
· EV Grieve [evgrieve.com]
· This Week in the East Village is Dead [Curbed]