Founded in 1892, and constructed between 1926 and 1928, Our Lady of Pompeii church has commanded the corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets for nearly one hundred years. The neoclassical style of the building contains the asymmetrically placed tower that frames the view across what is now Father Demo Square. The construction of this church embodied several generations and families of Italian heritage in the area, including two South Village icons: Lucy and Lenny Cecere.
The Ceceres owned a home and business on the block of MacDougal Street between Houston and King Streets for many years. Their business, “Something Special,” was known for selling doughnuts, bagels, candy, greeting cards, and eventually renting mailboxes and copying keys. Relied on by hundreds of South Village neighbors, Lucy and Lenny became icons of the area, later honored in 2019 with the secondary naming (proposed by Village Preservation) of the MacDougal Street block between Houston and King Streets.
Lucy and Lenny had close ties to the Italian community, or “Little Italy” of the South Village, as illustrated by their wedding at Our Lady of Pompeii and Lenny’s participation in the Father’s Club at Our Lady of Pompeii School. Both Lucy and Lenny were the children of Italian immigrants, and moved to the area surrounding the church in 1949. The original parish of Our Lady of Pompeii has deep roots in the Italian-American community of Greenwich Village, with over 81.5 percent of parishioners hailing directly from Northern Italy in the earliest years of the church. The church functioned as a center of political, cultural, and social development of the Italian community for many years, and still does today, even as its congregation has diversified considerably.
Further, the architecture of the church was selected to differentiate the building from the Protestant and Irish Catholic houses of worship nearby. This architectural significance and history is noted in the designation report for the South Village extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District (2010), particularly through Matthew Del Gaudio, the notable architect of multiple buildings in the area for the Italian community. As a center of this heritage, and as a physical marker of Italian history in the area, this church exemplifies the importance of preserving our religious sites, and their stories, throughout our neighborhood.
Similarly, located in the once-thriving “Little Spain,” area of our neighborhood is Our Lady of Guadalupe church at 229-231 West 14th Street. Like Our Lady of Pompeii, this site has been at the center of Spanish and Latin American heritage for decades, and bears enormous significance as New York City’s very first Spanish language church or church for a Spanish-speaking congregation. Bearing similar significance to the history of Our Lady of Pompeii, we’ve proposed this church for landmark status.
Honoring the importance of religious sites and the diverse history of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo is crucial in preserving the rich character of our neighborhood.