Michael Horne

St. Rita Church to be Razed, Replaced

Plan includes $20 million senior living complex on Lower East Side.

By - Apr 24th, 2017 05:26 pm
St. Rita's corner of N. Cass and E. Pleasant streets.

St. Rita’s corner of N. Cass and E. Pleasant streets.

St. Rita of Cascia, a 1936 Roman Catholic church building at 1601 N. Cass St. would be razed and replaced with a new building, according to plans announced Monday at the site, part of the Three Holy Women Parish.

The new facility, with about 3,600 square feet of worship space, sacristy and parish offices on the first floor, and with fellowship space and a kitchen below, would be developed by Tarantino & Company and sold to the parish for $1. The firm would partner with the parish to construct St. Rita’s Square, a $20 million senior living community with 29 independent living apartments, 48 assisted living units and 26 memory care units, along with 2,800 square feet of retail space at the northeast corner of N. Van Buren and E. Pleasant streets.

The senior living community would also have enclosed parking for 44 vehicles and indoor and outdoor bicycle parking, and would be connected to the church. It would be operated by Capri Senior Communities, a sister corporation founded by developer James A. Tarantino, whose roots with the parish go back more than a generation.

In addition to the existing church, an adjoining vacant school and former convent would be razed, along with the former Rectory for the church, which was converted into four apartments by Brian Glassel in 2010 and is currently assessed at $456,000. A portion of the alley that runs from E. Pleasant to E. Brady streets would be vacated. The site is approximately 1.1 acres.

Inside the Former Convent

New Church Honors Lost Landmark

The current St. Rita’s church is a minimalist structure with Art Deco elements. The church floor is not handicap accessible, and is located on the second floor of the building above a raised basement used for parish activities, including a Spaghetti Dinner held on Sunday, after the plans were announced to parishoners at mass.

The new building will be fully compliant, and have elevator access between the floors. But instead of paying tribute to the current St. Rita’s, Tarantino’s architects, including AG Architecture, plan to construct a new building reminiscent of the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii, razed for freeway construction in 1967 and fondly remembered by the Italian community as “The Little Pink Church.” Artifacts from the Virgin of Pompeii have been lovingly tended by the Italian societies for the past decade and constitute a popular display at Festa Italiana, to be held this year from July 21st-23rd.

St. Rita’s, established as a mission outpost of the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Church in 1925, became the defacto Sicilian community parish after the destruction of its predecessor.

Blessed Virgin of Pompeii.

Blessed Virgin of Pompeii.

Some of the artifacts from the old pink church as well as others from St. Rita’s will be incorporated into the new pink church, along with what is said to be the original iron bell of The Virgin of Pompeii, now installed at the Italian Community Center.

Mayor Tom Barrett spoke at the event held to announce the plans, and offered his now-common refrain that cities always change, but Milwaukee has never in our lifetimes seen the changes underway at this time.

Rev. Tim Kitzke, the church’s pastor for the past 18 years, recalled his early days when the parish and neighborhood were in a slump. Funerals far exceeded baptisms at his parish at the time, with the reverse being true today. He said he found great support from parish members when he made the announcement yesterday.

Ald. Nik Kovac joked that although he was raised Catholic and received his First Communion at Holy Rosary Church, this will not exempt St. Rita’s from making a public presentation of the development for neighbors. This is his custom whenever a zoning change or public funding is requested for a project. The date has not been set, he said, but the event will take place nearby, most likely at the church itself.

The senior housing component is welcome news for the Lower East Side, and for those who will be occupants. The facility is just one block from the Pick ‘N Save grocery store and East Pointe Commons shops, and also a block from Brady Street and its attractions, including Glorioso’s Italian Market. Many of the residents who stuck through their neighborhood during rough times will likely prefer to remain there as they age.


Last Year for Community Garden

This will be the final growing season for the Community Garden at St. Rita’s. The garden, planted in 2009, occupies a former lawn in front of and behind the former Convent building. Volunteers raised over 1,000 pounds of produce for the Riverwest Food Pantry in the garden in 2016. The garden also receives over 1,000 pounds of coffee grounds annually to be composted from the nearby Y-NOT II Coffeetails. (Full Disclosure: I haul them there myself.)

Discussions are underway to find replacement plots for the garden on the Lower East Side, with Riverview public housing and the green strip surrounding the Cass St. playground being suggested.

A “Feed for Seeds” fundraiser for the garden will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6th at the Y-NOT II, 706 E. Lyon St. A similar event last year raised over $700 for the garden.

A high point of the event: The amusing and talented “One Keyboard, Two Queens and a Whole Lot of Vodka,” will perform live at 3 p.m.

Community Garden

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23 thoughts on “St. Rita Church to be Razed, Replaced”

  1. Christopher Hillard says:

    I can’t argue that it isn’t a better use of space, but St. Rita’s is really quite endearing as an art deco/modernist building. I’ll honestly be pretty sad to see it go.

  2. Andy Kaiser says:

    You failed to mention that, in addition to St Rita’s properties and the rectory, the former C.H, Watson house, at 1616-1618 N. Van Buren would also be razed. The building is a 5-unit apartment with its roots going back to the 1870’s. The entire block has houses mostly from the 19th century, and this seems, in size , scale and style, to not fit the scope (or zoning) of the area around it. Also the parish seems to not have money for the upkeep of its building, the school building ( which could be used for the care facility) has been vacant for over 10 years, so where is this $20 million coming from? There is blacktop on the other side, between Cass & Marshall with nothing on it, that could be developed.As one friend stated ‘the people who drew up these plans obviously have never set foot in this neighborhood’.

  3. AG says:

    Andy Kaiser, I must disagree with your statement, “The entire block has houses mostly from the 19th century, and this seems, in size , scale and style, to not fit the scope (or zoning) of the area around it.” Three buildings to the south on Van Buren is a modern 6 story building, and beyond that you have east pointe commons and the east pointe market place.

    The “blacktop” I believe belongs to the cass street school and the park. I don’t think building over a park is in the cards.

    This project fits just fine in the neighborhood, and if they can get the financing to make this happen, more power to them.

  4. Eric S says:

    I agree, AG. This neighborhood includes a mix of building sizes. And neighborhoods should not be locked in amber, immune from growth and changes.

  5. Andy Kaiser says:

    OK, well to AG, you are in the business of constructing these postmodern shoeboxes, with buildings not even 10 years old looking like the worst of 1950’s-60’s architecture, and stand to net millions of dollars off the deal, while you build up to the lot line, with no greenspace, while the people living in proximity to these buildings watch their property values tank, as their sunlight is cut off completely.
    As for the other comment, People choose to live in this area because of the house’s architectural significance and age, and because they do not want to live in a place next to gigantic utilitarian structures that look like prisons with porches.

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @Andy Kaiser Is there some evidence of this: “while the people living in proximity to these buildings watch their property values tank”? I would think that new development in the neighborhood would push values higher.

  7. CK says:

    As a home owner in the neighborhood – it definitely will decrease home values (a 6-story building set in a zoned residential 3-story block) and does not fit in (which is why they had to get mayoral approval). There are locations a few blocks away where the height restrictions are not in place and mixed use/height buildings make sense. There is literally only a few blocks within Brady Street that qualify as historic based on the residences and apparently it only takes a donation to make the zoning rules change to the benefit of the developer.

  8. Mary says:

    Thank you Andy Kaiser. To be clear, in the area immediately around St Rita’s there are not any large 6 story buildings. The 6 story building that is next to pick n save is visually separated from st Rita’s by victorian houses, one small apartment building, a full 4 lanes of street plus a half block of smaller apartments and historic condos.

    The retail space does not fit in that small area of the neighborhood which is notably residential.

    It is nice that they are trying to respect the rich history of our neighborhood, and that it isn’t another huge condo building.

    That being said, it still appears to be another behemoth of a structure that will have trouble filling its apartments (even if senior living) like the others more recently built closer to water street and pick n save, and unneeded retail space plopped down in the middle of a neighborhood. Personally, I would love to better understand what type of commerce they are targeting and the layout.

    My home has been in the family since the 1930’s. Personally, I would be very sad to see St. Rita gone.

  9. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Andy Kaiser – AG the commenter is not AG Architecture.

  10. CJ says:

    I welcome this development, especially since it has the support of Three Holy Women. As someone who had an elderly mother to put in senior housing, another choice on the Eastside would have been welcomed, especially being connected to a parish. The church gets an added benefit of a beautiful, modern church with historic roots, something that is almost unheard of in city developments. Plus the residents, which I’m sure will fill the facility from our aging population, will not be a burden to the neighborhood, will add to St’ Rita’s parish, and also allow more of an aging population engage in our urban community.

  11. Tim says:

    When my great-grandmother could no longer live in her apartment alone, literally a block away on Cass Street, my family had a tough time finding her a good place to live out her final years in dignity. She worshiped daily at St. Rita and eventually had her funeral there as well.

    It would have been a great option for her in the past, as moving to a higher level of care wouldn’t have meant moving away from her longtime friends and community that she had known for decades.

    I hope this development proceeds and allows other current or future residents to live a new chapter of their lives, while still living where they have called home.

  12. Eric S says:

    This proposed building is perfectly in keeping with the neighborhood which, within a block or two, has similar sized-structures. It’s not all that much taller than the structures it will replace, and it is located along a major street (Van Buren), not in the middle of strictly low-rise structures on side streets. And assuming the retail is similar to the other small retail spots along Van Buren, it is perfectly in line with what already exists in the area. The idea that this development will cause property values in the area to plummet is doubtful at best, nor should “protecting” property values be the primary consideration anyway.

    This neighborhood did not reach perfection at some point in the past, upon which it cannot and should not be changed. Cities and neighborhoods grow and change over time. Hopefully a development like this one, bringing a couple dozen more residents to the area, will prompt the city to take a look at making Van Buren a safer street for all users, bringing benefits to the entire area.

  13. Gary says:

    I don’t get the proposed non-architecture design style for a residential building. It’s ugly. There’s no facade to give it identity, lots of wasted space that doesn’t benefit the residents (like a cloister setting would).
    The design actually looks like a 1990s renovated warehouse, original era obscured.
    Maybe the architects think that’s the level of sophistication Milwaukee decision-makers are stuck in.

  14. Joe says:

    It’s the 20th century. The church is old and to repair it it would cost just as much to build a new one. There are buildings that are connected to the church that have been empty for many years, and should be torn down any way. Look at all the Apartments that have been built on N. Water street and under the Holton street bridge and all over the place. Times have changed from the old days and most of the people who were around are no longer living. All we can do is cherish the memories and move on. Joe



  16. Mary Quirk-Thompson says:

    If it is going to honor the former Little Pink Church, could some article anywhere get the name right? Our Lady of Pompeii.

  17. Andy Kaiser says:

    For the record, it’s the 21st century, not the 20th,and has been for more than 16 years. Just because all the apartments are being built, doesn’t mean they’re being occupied. The bubble will burst, if it hasn’t already. ‘Cherishing the memories and moving on’ is not “all we can do”. That is an easy, ignorant way to let the developers win. We can say “no”. We can say “we don’t need another building like this forcing up rent, taxes, & infrastructure costs”.
    I am not completely anti- development,or anti-church, or anti-senior living. The places on Water Street are mostly built on land that was minimally occupied or surface lot for many decades. Building there doesn’t directly affect anything.
    The little pink church and senior living facility could be built, and a more modest design, could be built on their own property, without forcing other property owners into giving up their houses.

  18. Dave Reid says:

    @Andy I know of only one recently built apartment building in Milwaukee that’s struggled to rent up. Do you know of some others?

    “without forcing other property owners into giving up their houses.” Who’s being forced to give up their houses?

  19. Andy Kaiser says:

    the proposed plan would take the 2 houses on the SW corner

  20. Dave Reid says:

    @Andy My question was “Who’s being forced to give up their houses?” because you said, “without forcing other property owners into giving up their houses.”

  21. Andy Kaiser says:

    the developer would buy them out when they were not originally planning to sell.

  22. Tim says:

    If someone wanted to sell their house, who are you to tell them they can’t? What a weird angle to protest this development.

  23. Brian says:

    I wish they would have preserved the Pfister and Vogel buildings. The oldest one dated to 1858, and was a linen dactory before becoming a tannery during the Civil War.

    Tearing them down was a city priority after P&V clsoed, and even before.

    Such a sad loss. 30 different buildings lost.

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