Unwelcome guests warned before church demolition

ConEd to cut power to Visitation on Sept. 10 at new owner’s request


New owners have tightened security at the vacant site of the former Church of the Visitation since permits were filed for construction of an 8-story apartment building at 171 W. 239th St. last week.

Tishman Speyer confirmed Friday that they retained a security company to look after the site until demolition begins. They purchased the parcel for $20.6 million Aug. 16.

“No one is living at the property – nor has anyone lived at the property since the acquisition,” a spokesperson for Tishmam Speyer said.

But the empty church and brick school building have become a canvas for graffiti artists in recent years.

Con Edison posted a notice Aug. 31 warning any potential occupants that electric and gas service will be cut off Sept. 10 unless the owner makes an application to continue service.

“We want to avoid turning off the service to the building, and recommend that contact be made with the landlord, his agents or any responsible tenants to apply for service,” the notice fixed to a chain link fence on W. 239th Street said.

On the other side of the fence, a man parked in a white Honda Odyssey in the driveway said he was watching the property.

The police department said there have been eight 911 calls for incidents at the property this year, but could not give more information before press time.

A spokesperson for Con Edison could not provide further details, but said, “At the recent request of the customer, service to this location is being discontinued. Service will be restored when a new or existing customer requests responsibility for this account.”

The church and parochial school have slowly been reclaimed by nature since ownership merged with the Catholic Archdiocese of New York five years ago and left the site vacant. Several passersby said they’ve noticed people entering the property through gaps in the fence and were relieved to learn it was under new stewardship.

Matt Bonner, who lives a block away, said he first noticed activity at the property when the MTA shut down subway service during the pandemic and forced people off the train at West 242nd Street — the last stop on the 1 train a short distance away.

“What they would do is they would kick homeless people off the trains because they cancelled service from 1 a.m. to like 4:30 a.m.,” he said. “The homeless people had nowhere to go, so I think they probably found this as a location to squat.”

The Con Edison notice advised any current occupants who have serious health problems to call the New York City hotline at (212) 331-3150 before electricity is turned off.

Ruta Kurens, who also lives nearby in a 19-story co-op on Van Cortlandt Park South, said she was happy that something is being done with the property after years of neglect. 

“Now somebody’s started to do something, she said. “It’s better than staying like this. It’s scary at night.”