Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Landmark church is up for sale

St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church in Fells Point, a red-brick landmark that used to be a bustling parish before it closed and became the focal point of a local land controversy, has been put up for sale.

Developer Larry Silverstein owns the church at Ann and Aliceanna streets, which was built in the late 1880s with wages donated by working-class Polish immigrants. He is asking $850,000 for the 12,000-square-foot structure with ornate interiors and mahogany pews.

“We’re just preoccupied developing the rest of the site and we would like to have the church developed along with that and we don’t have the resources to do it currently,” Silverstein said Wednesday.

Silverstein’s firm, Union Box Co., closed on the 1.7-acre parcel last week with the Franciscan Friars, who owned it, for an undisclosed price.

The site has been at the center of controversy in Fells Point.

The former Mother Seton Academy, a school for low-income students, occupied the old parish school building before it closed three years ago.

In 2006, amid protests, the Friars ordered demolition of the large, historic friary on the site to make way for a town house development. Since then, the site has remained undeveloped and is considered an eyesore by many neighbors.

Silverstein said he plans to break ground in December and build the town house development with 20 luxury homes early next year. The project has been hampered by the recession, he said, but will be financed “100 percent with developer money.”

In the meantime, Silverstein says the church is for sale.

Realtor Kyle Durkee, of Cushman & Wakefield of Maryland, the listing agent, said the structure is zoned for light commercial and residential, and includes electricity, gas and sewage, but no water. The old parish was split in two, creating a pair of churches inside its gilded sanctuary. Each floor offers 6,000 square feet of space.

A new school, renovated by Silverstein over the summer, has opened in the old parish school building. The New Century School is a Montessori-based private school with 60 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten through first grade this fall. It’s leasing the space from Silverstein.

Whomever buys the church will not be able to raze it, he added.

“It’s a city landmark, so it won’t be torn down, and it is subject to all the historic guidelines,” Silverstein said.

Ellen von Karajan, executive director of The Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, said the church and its surrounding buildings have been a mainstay in the Fells Point neighborhood for over a century, so the sale may be emotional for some.

“It was where their parents were married, where they were baptized and where they went back to their roots,” von Karajan said. “It was deconsecrated 10 years ago, and now you have a building with a unique architecture that needs to find a new use that is compatible. It’s a matter of finding the right buyer and developer.”

Silverstein said he was seeking a buyer who could “co-develop the church with his company” in tandem with the plans for the town house community at the site.

“We won’t sell it unless someone has a compatible use,” he said.

Raymond Weber, 79, grew up across the street from St. Stanislaus Church and attended the parish school through eighth grade in the 1940s. At that time, 30 nuns taught in the classrooms.

At holidays — particularly Easter, when Polish tradition calls for the blessing of baskets filled with Polish sausage, breads and cheeses — throngs of worshippers spilled out onto the street.

“Once upon a time, there were over 1,000 students in that school — with 11 sets of twins,” Weber said Wednesday. “It was the lifeline of the neighborhood.”

Weber still lives across the street from St. Stanislaus, where a statue of St. Anthony graces the façade of the church.

He added that the potential sale of the church has created anxiety over its future. A similar church in Pittsburgh, he said with amazement, has been converted into a restaurant and microbrewery, and is successful. That restaurant, Church Brew Works & Restaurant, used to be St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, which served immigrant mine workers, many of them Polish and Italian.

“They now brew the beer where the sanctuary used to be,” he said. “Everybody is holding their breath about what’s going to happen [here] and who is going to buy it.”