A piece of Wantagh history is in jeopardy.
And Joshua Soren of Levittown is trying to save it.
To stop the 114-year old St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Wantagh from being destroyed, Soren — a Town of Hempstead Landmarks Commissioner — submitted an application to the Landmarks Commission himself to try and landmark the historic building.
The application to save the church, which sits on the boarder of Wantagh and North Bellmore, was submitted to the Landmark Commission on June 14 and approved in July. Now. Soren waits for the Hempstead Town Board to schedule a hearing.
Soren said the goal of the Episcopal Diocese, which owns the property, is to sell it and “have the church demolished,”
“For a long time I was hoping that someone or organization would submit an application for this site,” Soren said, in his application presentation speech to the Landmarks Commision. “When it was placed on the market and a real estate sign was erected on the property, I submitted this application immediately.”
Soren said commissioners usually do not have to fill out applications because other people concerned about landmarking the buildings submit them. “I got scared that the building could be gone so that’s when I went out on a limb and filled out an application myself,” he said. “So in this case I was the applicant.”
After the Landmarks Commission approved Soren’s application, a letter went out to the property owners within 300 feet of St. Matthias notifying of a hearing to be held on July 31. At that hearing, Soren acted as both a commissioner and the applicant, stepping down to the podium to present on why the building was of merit to be landmarked. The Landmark’s Commission voted unanimously in favor of landmarking the building.
The 1904 church has a lot of history to it, according to Soren. Recently, ongoing litigation was settled about the ownership of St. Matthias, between a nondenominational church and the Episcopal Diocese of Garden City. The non-denominational congregation was evicted in April after worshipping in St. Matthias for the past few years and the church land currently belongs to the Episcopal Diocese.
According to Soren, the Episcopal Diocese say they will use the money they acquire from the redevelopment of the property for programs they sponsor in the area. But people in the community “just love” the “old country style looking church,” Soren said.
“The way people such as myself see it is that, that money, no matter what it is, will be dispersed rather quickly and gone,” he said. “Then we lose a historic structure that has been there since 1904 and that is very deeply rooted into the history of the area.”
The Hempstead Town Board has yet to set a date for a vote on St. Matthias’ landmark status, Soren said.
If the church receives landmark status, the Episcopal Diocese will still be able to sell the building, just not demolish it. Currently, the church is vacant because, according to Soren, the Episcopal Diocese claims they do not have a big enough congregation to use the church.